Once upon a time, there was a big outcry in the literary community over the demise of independent bookstores.
Today, it's a different story — at least in Encino.
Residents are battling to save the community's only large-scale bookstore, a Barnes & Noble — which, along with Borders, was once considered the bane of small booksellers.
Activists say they simply want to preserve a place that not only sells books but doubles as a community gathering spot. They worry that e-books and Amazon.com may eventually spell the end of all bookstores.
"It's important for our children to have a place to learn, read and explore different subjects," said Encino resident Robin Permaul, who is spearheading a grass-roots effort to save the store from closure. "I don't want to read a picture book to my child on a computer. And the fact is, this is a successful bookstore. It's not closing due to lack of sales."
The Barnes & Noble outlet, which has been at the Encino Marketplace shopping center for almost 16 years, is planning to close because it can no longer afford its lease.
Los Angeles shopping mall magnate Rick Caruso, who owns the property where the store is located, has leased it to the drugstore chain CVS Caremark.
"We have over 20 pharmacies within a two-mile radius of this location," Permaul said. "The last thing we need is another drugstore."
Residents and activists have flooded Caruso with calls and written complaints. Hundreds have attended rallies protesting the bookstore's planned closure.
An online group, Save Our Encino Barnes & Noble, was formed in September and now has roughly 3,000 members, according to organizers. Bookstore proponents also have filed protests with the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, objecting to CVS' request for a liquor license. A petition to boycott the pharmacy also has been circulated.
Michael J. DeAngelis, a CVS spokesman, said in an e-mail that his company had conducted significant traffic and customer research before selecting the Encino location for the new store, which is scheduled to open next year. It is expected to generate 30 to 40 jobs, he added.
Caruso, whose other developments include The Grove and The Promenade at Westlake, said his company spent the last 18 months trying to work out a suitable deal with Barnes & Noble, and that he was "as disappointed as anybody that we were not able to reach an agreement."
Details of the lease amount were not revealed.
In an e-mailed response, David Deason, vice president of Barnes & Noble Development, said the bookseller had made clear its willingness to remain at its Encino location for "several years" at the same reduced rent that had been negotiated for 2010. But his proposal was not accepted, Deason said.
"We are not closing the store due to a lack of sales," Deason said. "The store is closing as a result of the lease term expiring, and the lack of an extension agreement between Barnes & Noble and Caruso Affiliated on terms acceptable to both companies."
Caruso said his company was working to find a smaller bookstore to occupy some 4,000 square feet of leftover space once the CVS moves in.
But residents aren't giving up, praising the Encino bookstore as a haven for youngsters and a popular hangout.
"This place served as a refuge for me when I was growing up," said Edahn Small, 30. "It really contributes to the culture here in Encino. You go to a bookstore to read, and to learn."
Earlier this week, residents filed a complaint with the Los Angeles city attorney's office, citing procedural violations related to CVS' application for a conditional-use permit. They are requesting that the appeal period for issuance of the permit be reopened.
"I'm a firm believer that it's never done until it's done," Permaul said.