There was an Irish wake Sunday with white wine instead of whiskey and an open microphone in lieu of a coffin at Dutton's bookstore in Brentwood.
The business, long considered the ground floor of the city's literary scene, is scheduled to close April 30, but owner Doug Dutton held an early party Sunday to say goodbye to his loyal customers and staff. The store, which has been open for 24 years, is being closed because of debt and uncertainty about whether it could continue to operate in its current location.
The building's owner, Charles T. Munger, has plans to develop the site.
The store was not offering discounts -- at least not yet -- but few customers came for the deals anyway. Dutton estimated that only 30% of the inventory remains, and many shelves were almost empty. The new fiction display resembled an unfinished puzzle rather than being crammed full of books.
"I'm really here to pay homage," said Dafna Ezran, who has been shopping at the store since she was a UCLA undergraduate in the late 1980s.
Even though big bookstores have shelves of full of books, Ezran said she frequented the store in search of hard-to-find poetry collections. She recalled once coming to Dutton's to find "Good Heart" by Deborah Keenan after she couldn't find it anywhere else.
"The poetry section just isn't the same anywhere else," said Ezran, 41, who lives nearby. She wanted to buy one last book at the store and said she was considering one of two remaining copies of Barbara Kingsolver's "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle."
Richard and Annette Harbinger showed up early to get front-row seats by the microphone. They have been regular visitors to the store since it opened and find themselves there several times a week. They estimated that about 10% of their 10,000-volume library came from Dutton's.
"It's a good thing we have very tall ceilings," Annette said.
The couple sipped white wine and listened to a four-piece classical quartet while they waited for the program to start. "We were here on the first day, so it's fitting we're here on the last," she said.
As the store courtyard filled up and caterers began putting out food and opening bottles of wine, emcee Diane Leslie began to fret.
Leslie has been the regular host for author readings for the last 22 years but still had a hard time composing herself. "I'm hopeful I won't cry," she said.
She managed to keep composed when she talked about how much she enjoyed the store. "I've learned more [here] than I've learned anywhere else," Leslie said.
Mystery author Denise Hamilton sobbed before she recalled giving her first reading of her debut novel, "The Jasmine Trade," more than five years ago. After the event, Dutton sent Hamilton a handwritten note of encouragement.
"I remember thinking that God had written me a letter," Hamilton said.
But many of the nearly 300 visitors wiped away tears as speakers offered up memories of the store.
When it was Dutton's turn to speak, he thanked the crowd for their support and said he had several projects in mind, including teaching. He didn't rule out getting back into the book-selling business.
"It's a crummy business but a wonderful life," Dutton said.
In the end, there was only one reading. Longtime Dutton's employee Scott Wannberg read a poem he'd written for the event called "The end of the aisle":
i still passionately advocate the physical feel of a
cover and material within
as you participate in today's soiree
continue to appreciate and support the printed word
in all its color and breadth.