By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Samantha said, "I can't. I don't own the store."
Gene said, "Well, figure out what to do to own it."
A customer helped Samantha with the paperwork, and she and Gene worked out a payment plan. At one point, Samantha told Gene, "I have no idea how to do the finances."
And Gene said, "I don't either, and I've been doing it for 34 years."
On her first day as the owner, Samantha threw out 10 boxes of books that hadn't sold in 30 years. She compressed the war books to make room for feminism. Sections that she had created below Gene's radar became more prominent, with signs like, "Some gay books" and "Lesbianica."
It took weeks, but Samantha cleaned up a storage area and turned it into a kitchen. When Gene saw the bright turquoise paint and large selection of teas, he said, "It's so clean. Where do you put your junk?"
Samantha said, "I throw it out."
Further investigation, however, revealed the relative nature of junk. Gene kept dull pencils, unusable coins, books with no covers he thought people should read. Samantha keeps a bulletin board for "things that fall out of books," and under thumbtacks are pictures of men and women with children and dogs, as well as inscrutable notes and random bookmarks.
Samantha is conscious that most used bookstores die quickly. In fact, one went out of business across the street from her. "He spent too much money on beautiful books," she says. "He forgot Gene's golden rule that bad books sell." She also thinks it's important to have the vintage books, because, "They contain images that are oppressive to women and people of color. I love pulp fiction because it is evidence." She looks up at me when she says this, to make sure I'm writing. "Put that in your article," she says.
Sometimes she goes against Gene's rules — like she hosted a teach-in for peace last Friday. I look at the narrow aisles and wobbly bookshelves and I consider that maybe some of Gene's rules made sense.
She breaks another of Gene's rules by staying open on Sunday. "Everyone should have a day to rest," he would say. In fact, she couldn't drink enough coffee to get through a seven-day workweek. So she hired her first employee. And her second and her third. She went through five in five months. One guy stole from the store. One guy talked on the phone instead of helping customers. Older people wouldn't take orders from her. "And you know what?" she tells me, "Men won't sweep."
So she hired her mom, who reportedly works harder than Samantha or Gene ever worked. "She's alphabetizing," Samantha tells me. "Section by section."
Samantha comes to work on her day off to introduce me to her mom. Samantha whispers to me, "She dressed up for you."
Her mom tells me, "We didn't always get along this well." I hear about when the mom was a schoolteacher and Samantha was a model and everyone had their Thanksgiving dinners separate from each other. She tells me she is happy to have such a wonderful job for her retirement and feels incredibly lucky to be spending so much time with her daughter. I see tears in her eyes.
Samantha says she's teaching her mom about the book business — starting by teaching her all of Gene's rules. As the store goes through its latest transition, one more life may be transformed.
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