Is this the end for Cliff’s Books in Pasadena, California? Cliff’s has been around for about 24 years, but Cliff is about 80 years old, and the scuttlebutt is that the rent just jumped up 40% to a huge amount. Owner Cliff Gildart hasn’t been in the store reportedly for over 2 years, hiding out somewhere in a little cottage in the wilds of the Pasadena foothills. The shop has been run by a skeleton crew, trying to cope with the recession-depression, an old building full of problems, an absence of foot traffic on the street, the decline of brick-and-mortar stores, the rise of internet bookselling, the Nook, the Kindle, the lack of money to make any big book buys, the vanishing collectors, the cultural meltdown, the decline of reading, the horrible educational system in Los Angeles where 50% of the students in high schools supposedly drop out (Pasadena itself has a much better school system than L.A.), the high price of gasoline, and possibly a decline of interest in the book itself, replaced by an electronic device.
Cliff’s is one of the last of the big used bookstores in Southern California. We have already said good-bye to most of the giants: Book City Hollywood, Berkeleuw (Hollywood), Book City Valley, Book Castle (Burbank), Book City (Burbank), Book Baron (Anaheim), Acres of Books (Long Beach), Wahrenbrocks (San Diego), Pickwick (Hollywood), and others we can’t recall at this time, much less the scores and scores of small and medium sized shops that are gone with the wind. What’s left in the World of Giants if Cliff’s goes out? The only one we can think of is Brand Bookshop in Glendale. That’s it for large general used bookstores in Southern California. A big store has opened in Downtown LA, but this writer hasn’t checked it out yet. It does have a fitting name: The Last Bookstore.
With a population of nearly 10 million in Los Angeles County alone, we will be left with one large general shop. And that one is shaky because the owner, Jerome Joseph, a great bookman and a funny, cheerful fellow, is himself well into his 80’s. So what is the problem? Is the population of Los Angeles just getting stupid? Brain-dead from TV? Overloaded with immigrants who refuse to learn English? There are certainly some big hurdles for any retailer, especially book shops. Real estate prices have soared, rents have skyrocketed. There’s a recession, but tons of empty buildings and storefronts have not stopped the onslaught of high rents. The greed seems never ending, even to the point of self destruction. Down the street from Cliff’s used to be a newstand-paperback joint called Bungalow News. The rent went up so high that the long-time proprietor had to call it quits. The storefront has been vacant for many years. Across the street from Cliff’s was a shop called Book Alley. This outfit started about 20 years ago in Old Town Pasadena, as a little shop in an Alley in the Old Town maze. High rent drove them out to settle in on East Colorado, almost across from Cliff’s. Eventually the rents bloated up and out, so Book Alley, under a new owner, moved farther east, to its new high rent spot 9 blocks or so east of Cliff’s. That storefront across from Cliff’s has also been empty for years. The landlords must be so wealthy that empty stores for years has absolutely no effect on their bank accounts or lifestyles. Some cities across the country have started to tax landlords who keep their buildings empty. Will that happen in Pasadena, where empty storefronts abound? Construction of new buildings is still brisk, the old one-story buildings wrecked and 4 and 5 story monsters now are lining East Colorado, with more to come. Billions spent in construction costs. The developers and banks have seemingly unlimited funds to spend, but where’s the retailers? A lot of the stores remain empty. As long as the U.S. Treasury is printing money, (now over 40 billion every month), the banks and developers will have a field day. Some say that at some point in the future, when the interest on the debt reaches the edge of the solar system, the big collapse will come, sucking the entire civilization into the void. By that time the population may be too ignorant and stupid to even notice.
Stay tuned here for the latest news on this drama and the heartbreak story of Cliff’s Books.