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Merchandise really does fly off the shelves as a popular bookstore closes

Bibliophiles do plenty of volume shopping at Anaheim's Book Baron, whose success story is ending after 27 years.

December 16, 2007|David Haldane | Times Staff Writer

They came from miles around for the mother of all book sales Saturday. They arrived with boxes, baskets and shopping carts to haul away used volumes by the thousands.

For book lovers of all stripes, it was a momentous occasion: After 27 years as a Southern California institution, the Book Baron of Anaheim was calling it quits.

"It's the end of an era," said Robert Easton, 77, a self-described "compulsive bibliophile" and Hollywood dialect coach, pushing a cart laden with more than 100 finds. "I have very ambivalent feelings. It's a joy to find these treasures, but I'm sad to see it close."

Robert Campolo, a film professor from Long Beach, said he too was in pain. "I love cruising around looking for used-book shops on Saturdays," said Campolo, 46. "This is a major loss, the end of something [cultural] which I hope won't disappear."

In fact, it almost has.

When owner Bob Weinstein opened the store in the 1200 block of South Magnolia Avenue in 1980, there were many used-book shops around. Originally, he said, the Book Baron took up about 7,000 square feet, less than half of which was required to house a scant 1,200 volumes.

Over the years, he expanded the Book Baron by acquiring an adjacent tile store and later a place that sold pants, until the shop covered 20,000 square feet and had an inventory of 500,000 used and rare books.

By then it had become not only one of largest used-book shops in Southern California, but -- in an era dominated by chain stores and Internet buying -- one of the few.

All that began changing earlier this year when Weinstein, 65, decided to retire. "I wanted to spend more time with my grandchildren and enjoying life," he said. "I wanted to start traveling and doing everything I want to do."

He quickly found a buyer and went into escrow. Then his landlord died, and the new one raised the rent 150%. "It was just more than the buyers could pay," Weinstein said, "so they walked away."

The Book Baron is marking its last weekend with a fire sale -- $1 per book, 50 cents per magazine -- of everything in the store. The rush ends at 8 tonight, when the shop finally closes for good. "I'll feel relieved when I get everything out of here," Weinstein said.

On Saturday, he was getting a little help from his customers.

Cindie Nguyen, 23, said she'd come looking for a Bible. "I was raised Catholic, and now I'm going back to it," explained the Pomona student as she browsed in the religion section. "I need spiritual guidance."

Val Dutton, 72, said she'd found several excellent books on World War II that would help her in writing a memoir.

And Virginia Nelson, a 50-year-old librarian for the Brea Olinda Unified School District, said she'd come to stock up on books for her students. "I'm sad that it's closing," she said, "but I'm ecstatic to be getting books at great prices."

That also seemed to be tugging at the heartstrings of owner Weinstein, but in a different way. His main emotion as he watched customers empty the shelves?

"I've seen some $150 books," he lamented, "go out for $1."

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david.haldane@latimes.com

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