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A bet on books' continuing pop-hop

At the new Pop-Hop Books & Print in Highland Park, a pair of print aficionados believes that others, like themselves, cling to the page in the age of ebooks.

May 19, 2012|By Carolyn Kellogg, Los Angeles Times
  • Sarah Balcomb and Robey Clark are the owners of Pop-Hop, a new bookshop and print studio in Highland Park.
Sarah Balcomb and Robey Clark are the owners of Pop-Hop, a new bookshop and… (Glenn Koenig / Los Angeles…)

Like a bad love affair, they kept it a secret from their families as long as they could. Because in 2012, who can admit the thing they want more than anything in the world is to open a bookstore?

Now they know. Pop-Hop Books & Print is holding its grand opening on Sunday with readings, music, printing and refreshments. Located in Highland Park on a stretch of York Boulevard that sparkles with new shops and restaurants, the store is a celebration of books as print artifact, with used literary and art books for sale and, tucked behind movable shelves, a screen-printing salon.

"One of the fundamental ideas was to have a place that cultivated an interest in culture that also allowed people to make their own," says Robey Clark, 34, a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design. The store will offer zine-making workshops, in which people write their own content, print their own covers and construct their own zines — some of which then will be for sale in the store.

When Clark was given the chance to take over the space from the Kristi Engle Gallery, he was enchanted by the idea of combining a print shop, which is his expertise, with a bookstore. He talked to local booksellers, including former National Endowment for the Arts director of literature David Kipen, who now runs Libros Schmibros; Kipen told him he'd just been talking to someone else with a bookstore on her mind.

"I was just dreaming," says Sarah Balcomb, 38, who jokes that she needed to open a bookstore because her house had gotten so full of books.

While many booksellers are worried about customers shopping online and buying ebooks, digital downloads are something Clark isn't concerned about. "A book is something that is constructed, that has a physical presence. I think people are getting more into that as we feel it slipping away," he says.

Not that the two are anti-technology; without the Internet, Pop-Hop Books & Print wouldn't exist. Clark and Balcomb used the Internet crowd-sourcing funder Kickstarter to raise $10,000 to get the store off the ground.

Less than a year ago, Balcomb and Clark met for the first time. What was planned as a 20-minute coffee turned into such an animated conversation that, four hours later, they were down the block talking books over beer and a business partnership was born.

That was the block where Pop-Hop is located, right next to the popular coffee shop Cafe de Leche.

Serving the neighborhood is important to them, and as they've gotten the bookstore into shape during a month-long soft launch, many have stopped in to shop and browse. Grandmothers have asked for more Spanish-language books. Balcomb and Clark invite proposals for events and classes and are open to the unexpected, which is why Pop-Hop Books will host baby sign language classes.

Although the Pop-Hop name soundsDr. Seuss-y, it's actually from Frank Herbert's science fiction classic "Dune." There is, however, a corner for kids and their books, decorated with a cozy rug, small chairs and pillows. On a recent afternoon, Balcomb's initially skeptical mother donated a Dos Equis box packed with Legos, stopping to squeal with delight at the newly installed counter and a pile of books that her daughter had just bought to resell.

Balcomb, who has a master of fine arts degree in creative writing from Columbia, is the store's literary lead. "We specialize in literature and art, and also general books that we find to be beautiful," she says. On a table in the center of the room there is a selection of publications from the small art presses in Los Angeles, including Seismicity Editions from Otis College of Art and Design and Les Figues Press. There are cookbooks in one area, pulp paperbacks in another. The longest wall holds literary and popular fiction, including books by James Ellroy and the "Twilight" series.

In a display box near the register, Balcomb has placed books by some of her favorite authors: Joan Didion, Djuna Barnes, Renata Adler, Donald Barthelme. Like many other books in the store, these editions are attractive and desirable but aren't collector-level valuable.

"We're into strange books, not rare, which implies luxury," Clark says. Some of his favorites are a set of postcards from Budapest with a vivid, unsettling color scheme and a reference book that he thinks is from Sweden — he can't read the words but finds the fold-out maps uniquely beautiful.

They want to share their enthusiasm for the printed word by holding a book show-and-tell in the store for patrons and friends to bring in and discuss unusual, beloved books of their own.

"People tell me enthusiasm for books is dying," Clark says. "I don't really buy it."

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