It can be a fine line between creative place-making and encouraging loitering — but Stories Books & Cafe strikes the perfect balance. At this artisanal antidote to the working-in-Starbucks phenomenon, it's literary-minded Echo Park locals who populate the well-stocked indie bookstore and its famous patio cafe. From 8 a.m. lattes to midnight munchies, progressive book lovers come there to read, write, gather and converse, and to attend the packed schedule of readings and musical performances that light up its aisles and backyard-style stage throughout the week. And, oh yeah, they come to buy books, too. A lot of them.
What's in stock runs the gamut from local to international authors, volumes both quite rare and gently used, new fiction, literary classics, art and chapbooks, film history, politics, all of it curated to reflect not only the owners' tastes and interests but those of the neighborhood as well.
Owners Liz Garo and Claudia Colodro and partner Alex Maslansky work across fiction, art, pop culture and music to keep the content both on and among the shelves maximally fresh and relevant to the community; in other words, making Stories the kind of place they'd want to go themselves even if they didn't work there.
For example, there are notable shifts in book customers' interests in response to the current social, political and cultural climate; at the same time, Stories' stock increasingly reflects the explosion of local independent publishers in the L.A. book world over the last decade.
Colodro explains, “There has definitely been a marked increase not only in political books being purchased but also in the amount being published by mainstream presses,” she says. “Whereas the decline of Western civilization was once seemingly marginalized to mostly academia and/or the hardcore intellectual scene, now I look at the new nonfiction releases and shudder. It's grim stuff.”
“Doomsday Lit 101 aside,” she says, there are many great new authors, among them Ottessa Moshfegh, who worked on her latest book, A Year of Rest and Relaxation, on Stories' tables. And, Colodro says, local publisher Not a Cult Media put out the shop's current top-selling title, Corazón by Yesika Salgado. Colodro herself is currently reading Spells, by Michel De Ghelderode, brought out by Wakefield Press, a favorite Stories extended-family publisher.
Of course, it's the used-books area where you find the treasures. “They reflect the neighborhood,” Colodro says, “because mostly, that's how we source them. It's important to listen to your customers but also keep interesting and unexpected surprises available in the classics, obscure international titles (many that have been reissued or finally translated), new presses, etc.”
Garo concurs, noting that having used books makes it easy for people to satisfy their curiosity. Though she doesn't work on the floor anymore, every time she goes into the shop, she finds something surprising that just makes her “want to spend the day there reading.”
November 2018 is, incredibly, Stories' 10-year anniversary. Details of what will certainly be a staff and customer appreciation party are still taking shape — as Garo says, “The Echo Park neighborhood has been very supportive.”
In the meantime, the event programming is as strong as ever. And even more so this week, as Stories helps celebrate a new edition of annual culture festival Echo Park Rising. The Stories motto is “The quintessential home for quotidian transgressions,” and it suits. In addition to the community of independent authors and visual storytellers who present readings and organize recurring series, Stories has close ties to the local music world, and that shows on its calendar.
In fact, Stories being a place for not only author events but music as well was always built into its fabric. “Echo Park is a creative community,” Garo says, “so there is plenty to pull from. We always wanted to keep the space active.”
A new beer and wine license has certainly helped amplify that goal, as has the evolution of the cafe kitchen. What began as a coffee cart soon grew into something more, and in recent years the menu has hit its stride. “When it first opened,” Garo says, “it seemed to be a place for unemployed musicians to grab coffee. Now it seems to be a place for business meetings! But the musicians still show up too.”
This is not a complete surprise, given that the Echo Park neighborhood has experienced plenty of its own changes in the last decade: more people, more nightlife, more action. “The neighborhood has changed and continues to change,” Colodro says. “We miss some of the places that no longer 'fit in' with the new Echo Park: La Guadalupana Market, the pawn shop on the corner, Out of the Closet (which just closed this month), Chango coffee, the Asian market, so many others. We hope it stays colorful.”
Stories itself does a lot to ensure that it will stay colorful, thanks to its eclectic programming. Some of its most popular recurring events, series and repeat guests include the weekly comedy show Good Heroin, curated by Dave Ross, Olivia Doud and Matt Ingebretson. The monthly storytelling night BUSted is dedicated to tales of public transportation experiences and is a major favorite; its leader, Scott Schultz, now has a podcast. And Garo mentions Richard Lange, an acclaimed author and early pillar of the Stories writer community.
In the meantime, if colorful is what you want, this week is Echo Park Rising, and it wouldn't be the same without action on the Stories patio. Events begin Thursday night with a throwback lineup of old-school Echo Park scene-makers like Jon Wahl and Garretson & Gorodetsky, plus Froglab featuring Joe Baiza and Mike Watt. Friday the stage sees a Pretty but Wicked–curated lineup along the soulful country-punk-electronica continuum from Wild Wing, Justus Proffit, Red Channel, Gold Cage, Grave Flowers & His Bongo Band and New Men. Good Heroin sparks the late laughter after a night of music on Saturday, and Sunday starts with a special edition of BUSted, then solo acoustic artists like Lael Neale, Night Shop and more.
Check the website for further details to make sure Stories is on your Echo Park Rising — and your everyday reading — itinerary.
Stories Books & Cafe, 1716 W Sunset Blvd., Echo Park; (213) 413-3733, storiesla.com; Sun.-Thu., 8 a.m.-11 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 8 a.m.-mid.