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Venerable Vroman’s Bookstore Could Be Forced to Close

Published on Monday, September 28, 2020 | 4:00 am
Image Courtesy Vroman’s Bookstore Facebook

In a letter to the community, Vroman’s Chairman Joel Sheldon said sales at the venerable Pasadena bookstore are down 40 percent from prior years, “A level which cannot sustain our business,” according to Sheldon.

“As you can imagine, the past few months have been the most difficult in Vroman’s 126-year history. We survived the advent of national brick and mortar competitors over the years and the development of online behemoths. But like virtually every retailer in the last six months — large and small — we are struggling as never before.”

According to its website, Vroman’s is the oldest and largest independent bookstore in Southern California.

Bookstores were not considered an essential business by Gov. Gavin Newsom when he forced all but the most necessary businesses to close and people to stay in their homes unless necessary at the beginning of the pandemic. 

But even before then, bookstores were facing serious downturns. According to Reuters, long before the pandemic tanked the industry had already been battered and bruised by Internet book sales, largely due to Amazon.

Bookstore industry sales revenues plunged from $15.9 billion to $8.8 billion from 2009 to 2019.

A Paycheck Protection Program loan and cash reserves have allowed Vroman’s to stay afloat, despite losses over the past seven months, Sheldon said.

“But it is critical now that our sales volumes return to much higher levels for us to stay open. Up until now, I have resisted asking for community support — it’s a very humbling experience. But it is now time.”

If Vroman’s is forced to shutter, it would be the biggest local casualty of the coronavirus. 

The store was founded in 1894 after Adam Clark Vroman moved to Pasadena with hopes that the Southern California weather would improve the health of his wife, Esther.

After she died two years later, Vroman sold his beloved book collection to raise the capital to open a bookstore.

Vroman died in 1916 and left the bookstore to longtime employees, one of them the great grandfather of the current owner.

More than 100 years since then, the bookstore is still an independently owned family business, with two Vroman’s locations, two Vroman’s boutiques located at LAX airport, and an ecommerce site.

In 2009, Vroman’s purchased Book Soup in West Hollywood after its owner died and the store was in danger of closing.

In his letter, Sheldon implored local residents to shop for books and gifts with Vroman’s and encourage friends and associates to do the same, shop early before the December holiday rush — saying the stores will be far less crowded in October and November and shop on weekday mornings, before crowds appear, rather than busy weekends and afternoons.

Sheldon also asked supporters to share posts from “Preserve a Pasadena Treasure, Shop Vroman’s” from Vroman’s Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts.

“The next few months will determine the future of Vroman’s,” the letter reads. “I truly appreciate your friendship and support during this critical time,”

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