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Iliad Bookshop's impressive odyssey

North Hollywood's mainly used-book store has survived the years, a move and changes in the literary business with the help of loyal clientele.

March 06, 2010|By Ann M. Simmons
  • Dan Weinstein at his Iliad bookstore in North Hollywood. The shop, which specializes in used and specialty books, has been able to survive in an age of e-books, Amazon.com and big-box bookstores, thanks to a loyal following and its rare finds.
Dan Weinstein at his Iliad bookstore in North Hollywood. The shop, which… (Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles…)

"The Iliad," the epic verse of the Greek poet Homer, is known in the world of classic literature as a tragedy. But the fate of the North Hollywood bookstore that bears its name has been anything but.

In the age of e-books, Amazon.com and discount chain stores, the Iliad Bookshop remains a rare success story. Recently, Dutton's and Bodhi Tree, once popular fixtures in literary Los Angeles, joined the growing list of independent book retailers to shut their doors.


FOR THE RECORD:
Bodhi Tree Bookstore: An article in the LATExtra section Saturday about the Iliad Bookshop in North Hollywood said the Bodhi Tree Bookstore in West Hollywood had closed. The store is still open and is expected to remain so until 2011. The owners of the store have sold the property and are looking for a buyer for the business who would continue operating the bookstore at a different location. —

"I'm sort of the last man standing," said Dan Weinstein, 47, proprietor of the Iliad, one of the largest used-book stores in the city.

The Iliad, located on a quiet stretch of Cahuenga Boulevard, has not only survived but recently expanded from 3,200 to 5,000 square feet. Weinstein purchased the building four years ago when his landlord at the shop's previous and highly visible location on Vineland Avenue raised the rent.

"I've tried to stay competitive with pricing," Weinstein said in explaining his business philosophy.

"I try not to put junk on the shelves. To me, that's nothing more than a turnoff."

The Iliad boasts a collection of more than 100,000 volumes of mostly used books covering a wide range of subjects, including philosophy, history, biography, music, erotica and the arts. Books about Hollywood and the movies are among the store's bestsellers.

Then there's Zola, the one-eyed tabby cat that can be found most days roaming the aisles or lounging on leather couches at the back of the store, as employees stock shelves, take inventory and field customer requests.

It's that homey feeling and personal attention that has drawn Chuck Harter to the bookstore several times a week for 10 years. The store has four employees and is open seven days a week.

"It's a bit like visiting with friends," said Harter, 56, a writer, actor and musician. "They're all so knowledgeable about the books, and they know their customers."

Employee Bob Johnson recently steered Harter to a book called "Too Young to Die," which includes two pages on the mysterious death of actor George Reeves, best known for his role in the 1950s television series "Adventures of Superman." Johnson knew that Harter was writing a book on the subject.

"It's all about service," Harter said. "There's really not that personal attention at the big bookstores."

Weinstein, who started in the book business at 14, comes from a long line of Southern California bookstore owners.

Uncles and aunts at one time owned and operated a dozen independent bookstores in Los Angeles and Orange counties, including the now-defunct Hollywood Book City. The only other family-owned store that survives is the Heritage Book Shop, which sells its merchandise out of a West Hollywood office by appointment only.

"As a child, I didn't do great in school," Weinstein said. "So I thought that if I didn't carry on the family tradition, I'd be flipping burgers."

But over the years his passion for books became more than just about continuing a family legacy.

"I just like books, and love reading," said Weinstein.

In 1987, Weinstein decided to open his own bookstore at Vineland Avenue and Lankershim Boulevard in North Hollywood. As it happened, there was a video store next door called the Odyssey.

Hence the name Iliad. Weinstein couldn't resist the idea of two stores with the names of Homer's legendary epics doing business side by side.

The Iliad buys and sells hundreds of books daily, Weinstein said. Most hardbacks are resold for between $5 and $10. There's also a table of bargain books for less than $2.

But the store also has a rare-book section.

On a recent weekday, Weinstein excitedly placed on the front counter an autographed hardback copy of Ernest Hemingway's "Green Hills of Africa," which sold for $2.75 when first published in 1935.

"This is what a $10,000 book looks like," Weinstein said, with an air of great satisfaction.

Of the dozens of customers who visit the store each day, most are regulars who relish the prospect of unearthing a lost treasure.

"You never know what they might have that shouldn't be in the public view. . . books that might give away secrets," said Johnny Tong, 37, a magician who could recently be found scouring the shelves in the store's magic section. "You can find anything here."

That's what keeps Aloura Charles, 33, another longtime Iliad fan, coming back.

Six months ago, the writer and North Hollywood resident discovered a copy of "Peter Pan" that had a 1911 copyright.

Inside were illustrations from the original silent movie based on the book, and an inscription: "To Andrew D. Robertson Jr. from Abba, Feb. 9, 1925."

"It was the perfect gift," said Charles, who bought the book for about $15 and gave it to a friend. "You get this sense of community and giving back when you buy used books."

ann.simmons@latimes.com

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