There’s a pivotal scene in the 1947 Frank Capra classic film “It’s A Wonderful Life”, where Jimmy Stewart’s character George Bailey has a moment of clarity–a bitter taste of what life would be like if he had never existed. Bailey’s angel guide, Clarence, sagely remarks, “Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?”
Such is the way we felt when we heard The Bookman was being forced to move from the store in Orange that they’ve called home for the last 28 years. The future was uncertain for the independently owned used bookstore––a local last vestige of a bygone era of brick and mortar booksellers.
Rumors and rumblings had been circling for a while now about the imminent move. When the news went official last week via an online GoFundMe crowdfunding campaign that the Bookman was on the move and needs help to make the transition, the community stepped up to help in Bedford Falls-levels of appreciation.
“It’s been a lot,” says David Hess, co-founder of The Bookman, of the community’s response, “It’s just an outpouring. I don’t realize how much of a part of the community we are; I forget, I just forget.” It happens to the best of us, Hess. Just ask Jimmy Stewart.
“Some people have grown up here,” remarks Paul Bonaventure Junior, who was still in high school himself when he began working at the bookstore. He helped build the shelves and cases and rolling racks you can still see today holding their exhaustive inventory of books of every size and flavor. Hess explains it’s common to see folks who first came to the store as children coming in today with kids of their own now.
Hess co-founded the store in 1990 with Paul’s father, Paul Bonaventure Senior, whom he met while the pair worked at Book Baron, the legendary used bookstore in Anaheim.
When the duo were co-workers at Bob Weinstein’s 20,000 square foot used book compound that stood off Magnolia Avenue and Ball Road for 17 years, they would meet for breakfast and dream of opening their own book store one day, taking notes and learning the ropes of the business while they worked. That one day came on March 31 of 1990 when the Bookman officially opened for business on Tustin Avenue.
“Beach Boulevard and Tustin were the two busiest streets in Orange County [at the time],” Hess explains. “So there was a lot of street traffic and that was good.” They moved in three doors down from Book Carnival, the specialty mystery novel bookstore, who has since moved south on Tustin Avenue themselves.
“[Book Carnival] really wanted us here because he felt, and I felt, that more bookstores bring more people,” Hess explains. And the people did come. The first book they ever sold was an old Nancy Drew novel for $2.95––the same price they charge today for the beloved children’s series books. “That’s the one book price that has not changed since the day we opened: $2.95.”
The new store opened in a single unit; nestled in between a beauty supply store and a beauty school, which later became Pepperland Records. The original store was a third of the size of what The Bookman is today. Within a couple years they were doing well enough to expand next door, and eventually expanding once more to add a room dedicated to paperbacks.
The Bookman opened a second location, Bookman Too, in Huntington Beach off of Beach Boulevard. The Bookman was open for business on both of the busiest streets in Orange County.
But in the early 200s, a new chapter for bookselling began. A pipe dream online bookstore called Amazon.com began selling books online and customers shifted their used buying habits web-wise. Many mom-and-pop independent bookstores around when the Bookman began are now fond memories. In 2007, The Book Baron, the store that inspired the Bookman, closed its doors.
“At first it was a headache,” Bonaventure Junior says. “I was worried that we wouldn’t be able to make this happen. And now we’re looking forward to it.”
“And now we can plan it from state zero and just make it the way we want it,” Hess says optimistically. The bookmen are already excitedly planning how to share their new home with the community who has rushed to their aid.
“You know, the kids section has always been in the lousy spot,” says Hess. “I’ve always wanted it with the windows and where they could sit down and enjoy and we’re gonna make that now.” There’s talk hosting events, in-store book signings and even having space for the community to host their book clubs.
At the end of “It’s A Wonderful Life” after the long journey from the pits of hellish despair and uncertainty, George Bailey is reunited with his loving family and friends. Bailey finds a Christmas gift from Clarence-–a book, actually; The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain. Written on the inside is the message, “Remember, no man is a failure who has friends. Thanks for the wings! Love Clarence”.
Just wouldn’t be the same written on the back of a Kindle, would it?
The Bookman will re-open in the fall of 2018 at 320 E. Katella Avenue, Orange. The Bookman is holding a 30% off moving sale through June 30. Donations to the moving and new location fund can be made in-store and via their GoFundMe online campaign.
When not running the OCWeekly.com and OC Weekly’s social media sites, Taylor “Hellcat” Hamby can be found partying like it’s 1899.