The Pasadena literary community is rallying to support Vroman’s Bookstore as representatives say the 126-year-old business is struggling to stay afloat after being dealt a devastating blow by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Weeks of forced closure in response to the early period of the pandemic have left the bookseller on the verge of closure, prompting the company to appeal to its fans to support the businesses during what Vroman’s Chairman Joel Sheldon described in a letter to the community issued Monday as “the most difficult in Vroman’s 126-year history.”
“We’re asking the community to remember us and come back and shop,” Sheldon said. “Shop often, early and help us get through Christmas,” he said. “And hopefully, we’ll beat the COVID crisis, essentially worldwide, and hopefully get back to normal.”
At the same time, company representatives said they wanted to make sure everyone stays safe, and urged customers to visit on weekday mornings, rather than afternoons or weekends, and do holiday shopping prior to December to help avoid crowds. Online and phone orders can be picked up curbside or shipped directly.
Vroman’s strong connection to the community in Pasadena, as well as the Los Angeles region, has been instrumental in helping it survive previous crises, including the Great Depression, the 1918 flu pandemic, two World Wars, the 2008 recession, and competition from massive chains and internet retailers
“It does go back 126 years,” Sheldon said. “And we have also tried to give back to the community in a variety of ways during those years.”
As an example, the Vroman’s Gives Back initiative has resulted in nearly $750,000 in donations to local organizations over the past 15 years, according to the company.
The surrounding city has also been a driving force behind Vroman’s long-term success, according to Sheldon.
“It was a great place to start a bookstore in 1894 in Southern California, in the middle of one of the world’s greatest population explosions. We also had a very well-read, educated community that values education,” he said. “And over the years, we became actually quite large.”
“So we were able to satisfy the customers,” Sheldon said. “We’ve always tried to treat them almost as family, like you would treat your family.”
Longtime customer and children’s book author and illustrator Marla Frazee said her connection to the store started early.
“I have books from my childhood from Vroman’s,” she said.
Traveling around to promote her works, bookstores, and especially independent bookstores, have become an increasingly rare sight, Frazee said.
“Pasadena had Vroman’s since before the turn of the century, and to me, it’s the centerpiece of the community,” she said. “One of the reasons we moved to Pasadena from other places in Southern California to raise a family is because we felt like Pasadena had a very established [literary] community.”
“I do feel that Vroman’s ties it all together in a way that not many other kinds of businesses do,” Frazee said. “It’s such an important place and I hope everybody realizes it and supports it.”
Vroman’s has also always strived to help local authors, she added.
“There are a lot of bookstores that have the sort of size and scope of Vroman’s that maybe haven’t supported local authors the way Vroman’s always has,” according to Frazee. “But Vroman’s has been very supportive of local authors from the time I was first published… They hosted my first book signing and every book since, and it’s been a big deal for my career.”
Local author and lifelong Pasadena resident Mary Lea Carroll said Vroman’s has become a big part of her life.
“Vroman’s is incredibly important to our civic life in Pasadena. It’s a wonderful place to just take a respite from the craziness of life,” she said. “I’ve been going there since I was a little girl. It is just one of the things that makes Pasadena Pasadena.”
“Vroman’s survived the Spanish flu epidemic, World War I, the Great Depression, World War II, every political coming and going for the past,  years, so we can’t let this take it down,” Carroll said. “Pasadena has a handful of institutions that are cherished. This is really one of them.”
Vroman’s encouraged fans to spread the word by sharing the hashtag #ShopVromans on social media.
More information is available on the Vroman’s Bookstore website at vromansbookstore.com.