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CALIFORNIA | SMALL BUSINESS | LEARNING CURVE / KAREN
E. KLEIN

They Go Here Before Going There

Pasadena Bookstore Fills Niche With Focus on Travel

June 17, 1997|KAREN E. KLEIN

When Adrian Kalvinskas graduated from the University of San Diego in 1988 as a history major, he decided to combine his three loves--books, travel and his hometown of Pasadena. The following year he opened Distant Lands, a small bookstore focusing exclusively on maps and travel guides. At the time, retail space in crumbling, neglected downtown Pasadena was going begging, and Kalvinskas was able to find a storefront that fit his price and a landlord who believed in his idea. Since then, Kalvinskas has expanded twice and seen a revitalization that has turned his once-sleepy block into one of the hottest weekend destinations in Southern California.

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I started off with 2,000 titles and a lot of people telling me I was nuts. Then, in November 1989, the Berlin Wall came down. I was supposed to open my doors the next month, but before we even got a chance to finish stocking our shelves we made our first sale to a guy desperate for a book on Eastern Europe.

Over the years, I have always focused very narrowly on travel and especially adventure travel.

If you walk into my store and you are planning to go to India or Phuket, Thailand, somebody here has probably been there. My mother works here, and she has been to all seven continents. I have traveled all over the world. I have employees who have studied abroad. One of them just got back from Tibet.

We carry maps from Pasadena to Katmandu. I have supplied archeologists with tactical pilotage charts of Egypt from the Defense Mapping Agency. We have always been willing to help people and answer questions for them. I just got a phone call about what the weather is like in Venice. If I don't know, I do some research and find out.

In 1995, the space two doors away opened up, and my landlord wanted to know if I wanted to expand. For years, people had been asking us where to find things they needed for their trips--travel packs, mosquito netting, electrical converters, clothing. I was recommending places that were far away. I realized there was a need in this area for a travel accessories shop.

So we opened the outfitter part of the business. That went so well that when my landlord told me the space just next to the outfitter was opening up, we decided to move into that. We have just completed a renovation and expansion of the outfitter side and ended up with one large space, with 4,000 square feet for books and 3,000 square feet for accessories.

The Council Travel Agency has begun subleasing counter space from us inside the store, so now we truly are a one-stop shop.

As I expanded my store, I have worked closely with my landlord. When I told him there was no way I could afford all this new space, he worked with me to put in a stepped increase that will allow me to be open for several months before the rent goes up.

We are now the oldest bookstore in Old Pasadena. There are giant chain bookstores, like Barnes & Noble, that have opened over the past two years. I went down and introduced myself when they first opened, and they have sent me customers since Day One and I have returned the favor. What might be a problem customer for them might be an ideal customer for me.

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More small-business news: D9

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AT A GLANCE

* Company: Distant Lands Travel Bookstore and Outfitters

* President and CEO: Adrian Kalvinskas

* Nature of business: Sells travel books, accessories, gear and maps.

* Location: Old Town Pasadena

* Founded: 1989

* Employees: 8

* Annual revenue: $500,000

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