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Bookstore hopes to help fill literary void in Brentwood

June 08, 2008|Martha Groves | Times Staff Writer

The April 30 closing of Dutton's bookstore, long a haven for L.A.'s literati, left readers in Brentwood and environs bereft. Now it appears that another independent book merchant is stepping in to try to fill that void.

Diesel, a Bookstore -- which has stores in Oakland and Malibu -- plans to open in early September in a 1,500-square-foot space at the Brentwood Country Mart, at San Vicente Boulevard and 26th Street on the border of Santa Monica. The location is about a mile west of the mid-century Modern building where proprietor Doug Dutton operated his warren of book-filled rooms off a central courtyard and hundreds of authors held readings over the years.

"Having a bookstore at the mart has always been one of my goals," said James Rosenfield, a developer who holds the ground lease on the 60-year-old Brentwood Country Mart.

Rosenfield said he recalls spending hours as a youth at the Book Nook, a mart staple that closed many years ago. Since taking over the mart in 2003, he has attracted a variety of independent specialty boutiques to join such stalwarts as the shoe repair and barber shops and Reddi Chick, a restaurant specializing in rotisserie chicken and French fries. Rosenfield said he offered Diesel a below-market rent.

John Evans, Diesel's co-owner, said that a year or so ago, Rosenfield approached independent bookstore owners on the Westside about opening in the mart, an anachronistic but successful retail center that resembles a red New England barn.

"Everybody said no, for some obvious reasons, one of which was Dutton's," Evans said. After Dutton's announced that it was closing, Evans and his partner, Alison Reid, decided the time was right despite the daunting economics facing book merchants.

"Here's an opportunity to go into a place that can support a bookstore," Evans added.

Harold Zellman, a Los Angeles architect who launched his book about Frank Lloyd Wright at Dutton's, welcomed the news.

"That's actually terrific," Zellman said. "Needless to say, I sorely miss Dutton's. . . . [But] I think there's a lot of audience from Dutton's that would move over if there were a store even remotely comparable."

Evans, an independent bookseller since 1980, said Diesel would not attempt to replicate Dutton's, a much larger destination store with a national influence. "Dutton's was more regional," he said. "We're very neighborhood-oriented."

But customers would be tempted to draw comparisons. Like Dutton's, Diesel is known for its author events and for an eclectic mix of books from university and small publishers, in addition to bestsellers. The Diesel website uses a bit of literary whimsy in describing the company's concept as "the cutting-edge, high-octane, community-radiating, independent neighborhood bookstore we all dream of hanging out in, getting imaginally turned on in, and literarily inspired by."

Evans acknowledged that the country mart space was "not very big." To make the most of it, he said, Diesel will have floor-to-ceiling shelves with a wide selection of books and a staff interested in "passionate engagement" with customers.

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martha.groves@latimes.com

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