Yaotl Mazahua popped into the $10 Or Less Bookstore in Northridge on a recent Sunday afternoon. The 48-year-old San Fernando resident was looking for a copy of Lord of the Flies for his son, as well as possibly something for him and maybe his daughter.
"I was pleasantly surprised that there was a bookstore that I could come to locally," Mazahua says, adding that he buys books online from sites such as Amazon.com, but prefers the in-person experience and no shipping fees. "You hardly find anything like this any more."
The $10 Or Less Bookstore is exceptional in its unexceptionality. There are no bells and whistles, no obscure niche it caters to or quirky name to lean on. It's a bookstore with a wide variety of new and used books and DVDs, all for under ten bucks, like the name says.
What might make $10 Or Less truly stand out is the fact that it is expanding, even in an era popularized by e-readers and e-commerce, where seemingly every day another brick and mortar retailer goes under (See: Cliff's Books, Pasadena; Borders, everywhere). The original $5 Or Less Bookstore opened in Simi Valley seven years ago, followed by the new outlet with the more flexible name in Northridge last year. In September, the company's third outpost opened in Valencia, and the Northridge location moved to new digs on Tampa just down from the Costco.
Michelle Schwabe, who co-owns the stores with her husband Greg, says that the quality and variety of the books is what draws people, as well as that real-world experience of going to a bookstore that some still crave.
"The e-readers have definitely changed this industry," Michelle says. "It's almost decimated a lot of mom and pops across the nation. I think the key is discount. I don't know if time will catch up with the population that still wants the tactile feel and smell and holding of a book. I've tried [e-readers]. It was like a sacrilege for me to even try it. It's just not for me. Obviously it's probably because I own three bookstores. That's a moral conflict. I can't do that."
The Schwabes first started out as online book wholesalers, operating out of their 61,000- square-foot warehouse in Simi Valley. When you purchase a book dirt cheap from a third party through sites such as Amazon.com or Ebay, it might very well come from their warehouse. Michelle estimates they ship 800 books a day.
A few years back, the couple figured they had too many books for even their spacious warehouse. So they opened their first store in Simi Valley, followed by the two recent locations.
But just where do the Schwabes get their books? Remainders and overstocks from the publishing world. And these aren't titles no one want.
Michelle said that children's books are the most popular, followed by fiction, DVDs and bargain books. Yes, a store with books priced under a Hamilton has a bargain section.
The stores frequently host open mic nights, story time for children, a book club, and discounts for seniors and educators.
"I think this bookstore, this model, it's more about anchoring in the community," Michelle said.
For more information visit www.10-dollar-bookstore.com.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
Robert Fulton on Twitter:
Public Spectacle, L.A. Weekly's arts & culture blog, on Twitter: