Small World Books turns 40
In a digital world, print has found a niche on the Venice Boardwalk
By Gary Walker
When she moved her independent bookstore from Marina del Rey to the Venice Boardwalk in 1976, Mary Goodfader had no idea how long it would last.
Now, 40 years later — in a world where online shopping is common and new technology allows people to read practically anything, anywhere on hand-held devices — she is still in business.
Small World Books found its niche on Ocean Front Walk at a time when the boardwalk was “exploding” with a new kind of tourist scene and a new zeitgeist, Goodfader said. The literary community in Venice was thriving and Goodfader soon had a steady, dedicated clientele.
“It was great timing. Everyone was coming to Venice Beach to see all the skaters and the jugglers. It was a fun time and the mood was always upbeat,” said Goodfader, whose family owns the popular Sidewalk Café next door to the bookshop.
Venice has been a haven for poets dating back to the 1950s, when Beat poets flocked to the Venice West Café (now 5 Dudley Avenue) to debate the works of Jack Kerouac and Stuart Perkoff, so Small World maintains a specialized section on poetry.
“It’s probably our most popular section,” said Janice Mall, who has worked at Small World Books for seven years.
Small World has been a poetry section exhibitor at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books multiple times — no small feat for an independent bookstore.
As brick-and-mortar booksellers B. Dalton and Borders have closed their doors, leaving Barnes & Noble as the last major national bookstore chain standing, Small World holds strong under its bright red awning in the e-book world of the 21st century.
“Because we’re a small independent bookstore, I ask my customers to pay retail. But they support us because I’m part of a community that loves books,” Goodfader said. “I think there has been a resurgence with independent bookstores, but it’s hard to compete with sites like Amazon — which has only one goal in mind, and that’s to close all independent bookstores.”
Andrea Vuleta, executive director of the Southern California Independent Booksellers Association, says small stores must often offer unique intangibles in order to stay solvent.
“We’ve found that people like more personal service that you often find at independent stores. They also like the specialized sections in these stores and often look for the store’s owners or their employees to recommend new books for them to read,” Vuleta said.
That’s true for Small World Books.
“We have a lot of regulars. Our customers are people of all ages who have a love for physical books, and they often ask us for suggestions,” Mall said.
There’s also a cat named Conan the Librarian.
Fiction and mystery books were among the store’s high-volume sellers until recently. Small World has hosted signings by authors such as crime novelists Michael Connelly and Robert Parker as well as author James Frey, who has a home in Venice, Goodfader said.
Their biggest signing was when gothic fiction writer Anne Rice came to the boardwalk at the height of her popularity in the 1990s.
“We had lines that went around the block that day,” Goodfader recalled.
Goodfader acknowledged that she has a couple of advantages over other small bookshops that have helped her keep the doors open at Small World Books.
“I own the property, and owning the Sidewalk Café certainly helps a lot,” she said.
Vuleta believes there is a segment of the population that still values reading a paperback or hardcover book over a Kindle.
“A lot of people have found a place for their electronic reading, but they also like reading physical books,” she said.
Despite everything else, Goodfader attributes Small World’s success to her staff and clientele.
“I have a quality bookstore with high-quality employees and high-quality customers,” she said. “My passion is books, and I’ll do this as long as I’m able.”
Small World Books celebrates its 40th anniversary from 4 to 7 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 28, at 1407 Ocean Front Walk. Call (310) 399-2360 or visit smallworldbooks.com.