Dawn Levesque, 77, is going to learn about World War II. Heidi Barnett, 43, mother of two, comes to buy gifts for her children. Justin Beblawi, 25, has been visiting since he was a child and now works there as an employee.
For people of all ages in Pasadena, California, Vroman Bookstore, founded in 1894, has been a mainstay, a gathering place, a trusted sanctuary in a world of rapid change. When its founder, Adam Clark Vroman, died in 1916, he left the bookstore to his godson, Alan Sheldon, a Vroman employee.
The current president and majority shareholder, Joel Sheldon III, 79, is the third generation of his family to run the company and has been at the helm for more than 45 years.
Now, as Vroman’s prepares to celebrate its 130th anniversary, Sheldon has decided it’s time to hand over the reins.
But he doesn’t just want to sell to the highest bidder. Sheldon wants to leave the bookstore in good hands.
“Vroman’s deserves a new owner with the vision, energy and commitment to successfully take it into the future,” Sheldon said in a statement. instagram post announcing his decision last month.
He continued, “We will take the time necessary to find the right new owner – someone who shares our core values and is committed to preserving Vroman’s as a community treasure.”
Over the years, the bookstore has hosted authors such as Upton Sinclair, Ray Bradbury, Ginger Rogers, Joan Didion, Hillary Clinton and Judge Sonia Sotomayor. In 2008 it was named bookseller of the year by Weekly Editors.
“We have generations of customers,” said Sherri Gallentine, who began working as a clerk at Vroman’s in 1992 and became a senior book buyer in 2010. “We have people who come in and say, ‘I came here when I was a kid with my grandparents and Now I will bring my children here.”“
The store is a place of pride for the people of Pasadena, said Philip Hawkey, former city manager. “Vroman’s reflects a lot of Pasadena’s civic identity,” he said.
Purportedly the largest independent bookstore in Southern California, the store has two locations in Pasadena, two boutiques at LAX airport, and an e-commerce site. Its main location in Pasadena, on Colorado Boulevard, also has a coffee shop, wine bar and a large space for reading books. In 2009, Vroman’s purchased the independent bookstore Book Soup in West Hollywood, after its owner died and the store was in danger of closing.
Stores strive to curate their selection, with sections like “California and the West” and “Black Lives,” and prioritize customer service. Often, one of its 150 employees walks customers to the shelves to help them find the books they are looking for.
That personal touch helped Vroman’s survive competition from big box stores and online retailers.
“We have people who will help you choose gifts for the family or just something nice for yourself,” Gallentine said. “We try to connect with our customers.”
In an interview, Sheldon said he has faith that the right manager for Vroman’s is out there somewhere: “We’re very confident we can find someone.”
However, Loyal Vroman’s customers are worried that the bookstore will change or, worse yet, that they won’t find a buyer and will have to close. “Everyone is talking about it,” Barnett said.
On a recent weekday morning, Barnett was browsing upstairs in the children’s section with her daughter Liza, who had just turned 8 and was planning to spend her birthday money (her mother was trying to steer her toward the books and keep her away from a stuffed bunny). .
“Reading is very important to our family,” Barnett said, and “just by bringing them here, I’m instilling that love of books in them.”
Nearly 40 percent of Vroman’s business comes from non-book merchandise, including gifts, kitchenware, greeting cards and stationery. It would be nice if a new owner decided to lean more in that direction, Sheldon said: “Adaptability and resilience have allowed a good owner to run a great bookstore.”
Katie Wengert, who visited Vroman’s from Philadelphia recently, had her arms full of gifts, including a novel (“The Idiot” by Elif Batuman), gifts for her boyfriend who is turning 40, and a birthday card for her sister. in law.
“It’s everything you want a bookstore to be,” he said. “That doesn’t really exist anymore.“
Residents have reason to be optimistic that someone will continue Vroman’s tradition. The bookstore struggled mightily during the pandemic shutdown and the community rallied in response to Sheldon’s plea for support on social media.
“We’ve certainly been through world wars and depressions,” Sheldon said. “With our customer base and our hard-working employees and friends, we made it through it and came out on the other side.”
On a recent visit, Levesque, a regular customer, ordered a book on salvaging leftovers, bought a planner (at 50 percent off) and browsed the travel and history sections.
His three children always give him gift cards to the store, he said. They also know about her last wish.
“I already told you, when it happens, cremate me, spread my ashes in the Vroman Bookstore,” he said. “Just a little bit here and there, because that’s where I want to end up.”