Don’t even talk to Jerome Joseph about selling coffee in his Glendale store, Brand Bookshop.
“Absolutely not! I don’t understand that theory,” Joseph says. “People sit down to read and they spill coffee on the books. To me, they don’t mix.”
Joseph, a wiry 80, looks and sounds like an eccentric bibliophile out of Fahrenheit 451, one whose favorite expression seems to be, “to make a long story short.” He has owned his store at 231 N. Brand Boulevard for 21 years and is strictly old school when it comes to the trade, providing a welcoming if somewhat no-frills environment for leisurely browsers, with classical music unobtrusively drifting out of old speakers. (“Years ago I had a cat, but it’s too hectic in here. To make a long story short, they run in and out.”) Staffing is also a part of Brand’s spartan feng shui.
“The people I hire are helpful,” he says, as Dvorák’s Ninth rumbles in the background. “They don’t act as though they’re doing you a favor for talking to you.”
Joseph arrived in California half a century ago as a Missouri lawyer but failed the state bar exam and wound up selling books for others in Anaheim, Hollywood, North Hollywood and Fullerton before getting his own place in Glendale, just a few doors up from a Crown Books. He soon learned two facts of book-selling life.
“The best thing a used bookstore can do is be next to a new bookstore,” he says, “ ’cause when people are looking for out-of-print books, they send them to you. And when you open up a used bookstore, you immediately attract people who want to sell you books.” He has never lacked walk-in inventory, which he pays fair price for even at a time when other used bookstores have stopped offering cash for trade-ins.
“People tell me I buy too many books,” he says, “but to me it’s like putting money in the bank. They rarely go down in value.”
Of late, Joseph has seen stores come and go — mostly go. Used bookstores have especially lost customers to the Internet.
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“I don’t blame them,” Joseph says. “Me, personally, I don’t like computers. I don’t own a computer. Most people who come into a used bookstore today just want to see and handle books before they order them on the Net.”
Still, Brand Bookshop has stayed ahead of the game thanks to Joseph’s insistence on variety (the store has a rich literary-criticism section), extremely good prices and tidy organization of its 100,000-plus-volume inventory.
“We’re in no danger of going out of business because we have a lot of established customers,” says Joseph of Brand, whose books, including those stored in a nearby warehouse, are also available online through AbeBooks.com and BookFinder.com — thanks to his adopted son, Noriaki Nakano, for Joseph is never found on the business end of a mouse.
“Someone told me the Buddhism section is wildly out of order!” he calls out to an employee passing by. “Could you please look into that?”