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2-year-old Dutton's to close

The bookstore's Beverly Hills location couldn't make a go of it despite below-market rent, the owner says, and the city was `out of options.'

December 21, 2006|Scott Timberg | Times Staff Writer

Describing his store's financial situation as unsustainable, owner Doug Dutton said yesterday that the barely 2-year-old Dutton's Beverly Hills would close its doors at the end of the year.

The store, the only independent bookshop in Beverly Hills, was an offshoot of the original Dutton's in Brentwood, considered one of the premier independent bookstores in Southern California. The Beverly Hills branch was the first nonspecialty bookstore to open in the city in more than a decade. It is in a space owned by the city.

"I think I have done what I was supposed to do, except pay the rent," said Dutton, who said he was courted by the city for several years before opening his 8,000-square-foot, blond-wood shop on North Canon Drive. At its peak, the shop had 85,000 titles and 300,000 books.

Dutton admitted to some bitterness over closing.

"The city was completely unwilling to renegotiate," he said. "It was, 'Pay up or go.' "

To persuade him to open the store in 2004, city officials made Dutton what seemed a good offer, with rent significantly below the area's market rate. "But that was a different mayor and a different council," Dutton said.

Scott Miller, chief financial officer for the city of Beverly Hills, said: "Mr. Dutton got retail space well below the market rate. The city thought this would be a good enough driver to be economically viable and successful."

But despite working for months to try to make the site work, "the city could not go lower. We ran out of options," Miller said.

"We had all the intention and all the good faith" that the space would work out, he added. Bookstores are a tough business and "we both agreed that he couldn't continue operation."

Dutton pointed out that bookstores rarely make money in their first five years.

"If you plant a sapling and cut it down two years later because it's providing insufficient shade, I think that's shortsighted," he said. "Bookstores take time to grow. But I'm not able to go five years and not break even."

Dutton said that in addition to trying to renegotiate his lease with the city, there had been other possibilities as well. As recently as last week, he said, he'd had "a long talk with a very well-to-do Beverly Hillsian, who was sick about this, and talked about a major financial contribution." But that did not work out.

The store will move its stock out in January, with the last day of business expected to be Dec. 31. Some books, as well as author events, will be moved to Dutton's Brentwood Books.

When the store opened, Dutton expressed pride that it was built around books and not the kind of tchotchkes that, he said, typically fuel bookstore profits. He said he didn't regret sticking to his guns in a period made difficult by chain stores and online bookselling.

scott.timberg@latimes.com

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