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A Malibu bookstore's voluminous variety

The owner of the new Bank of Books, Malibu, has learned to customize and to cater to his clients in novel ways. That includes a rare book section, with a King James Bible offered for $48,500.

December 26, 2012|By Matt Stevens, Los Angeles Times
  • Clarey Rudd, owner of the new Bank of Books, Malibu, holds an 1877 copy of "Faust: A Tragedy," on sale for $6,850. For a brick-and-mortar bookstore to survive today, the basics are not enough. So Rudd has learned to customize, and to cater to his clients.
Clarey Rudd, owner of the new Bank of Books, Malibu, holds an 1877 copy of… (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles…)

The children's section offers the standard selection of Hardy Boys. Across the store, a shelf marked "Classics" carries more of the usual fare, including a range of work by Charles Dickens.

But for a brick-and-mortar bookstore to survive today, the basics are not enough.

So Clarey Rudd, owner of the new Bank of Books, Malibu, has learned to customize, and to cater to his clients in novel ways.

On display near the front of his store is "50 Years of James Bond." Inside are pictures of Pierce Brosnan, one of many celebrities who stop in from time to time. Nearby, "Swell: A Year of Waves" is surrounded by books and magazines that cater to the surfer crowd. Sometimes roaming residents flip through the pages of those books, and find themselves — or their parents — pictured inside.

But the glass cases along one wall attract the most attention, especially from Malibu's well-heeled book-collecting crowd. Inside the case, rare books with pewter covers, so old they look like stage props, await. A rare Shakespeare edition accompanies signed first editions of the Harry Potter series. The granddaddy of them all, a 1613 King James Bible, rests below the Potter books. Its pages are battered and brown. Its price: $48,500.

It's all part of a community marketing strategy that Rudd has perfected through more than 50 years of bookselling.

Rudd's book empire is growing as bookshops elsewhere are closing.

The store opened in July. It is Rudd's third, and his first in Los Angeles County. Attached to a coffee shop and tucked inside a shopping plaza, the store fills a need, customers say.

"Malibu desperately needs a place where people can get together and a place that offers an alternative to some of the other limited social things you can do in the evening," said Anita Poirier as she paid for children's books featuring fairies.

"I prefer not to buy my printed literature on websites," she added. "I prefer the tactile experience, and a lot of my neighbors and friends feel the same way."

Poirier visits the store often, and came recently to see a friend give a reading. In addition to the tailored book selection, the store holds monthly poetry nights and music nights. The poetry nights are booked through February, according to the staff.

Behind it all is Rudd, a 60-year-old Oxnard resident who comes from a family of booksellers. He and his family started selling books online in the mid-1990s and had opened their first store of this type in Ventura County by 1998. A year later they opened another. Then they moved the stores to larger locations. Eventually they ended up with an inventory of more than 2 million books and two warehouses. The company ships more than 100 books a day.

To keep it all straight, Rudd works more than 80 hours a week. And since August, he's been running his business without a voice: He had surgery in August to remove a tumor from a rare form of cancer. The tumor had grown so large, air was passing through a wire-thin passage in his trachea, he said. To remove the tumor, surgeons also had to remove Rudd's larynx, leaving a hole in his neck that he covers with a patch.

"He's got a passion for books and a passion for matching people with the books they need. He's always thinking about that," said Ann Lambert Vannoy, manager of the Malibu store. "I've never heard him complain. He's always just happy to be here."

Rudd said he has other "big plans" for the Malibu store. He also wants to open an outlet bookstore in Oxnard.

He insists that bookstores can — and must succeed. To communicate, he scribbles on a white pad of paper with a pen, then tears off the sheet and hands it over.

"Literature, as you know, helps people with their problems," it says. "They escape with novels. They learn about life, the world."

He scribbles again.

"I can't answer the phone. But I love helping people."

matt.stevens@latimes.com

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