In 2009, Josh and Heidi Spencer opened The Last Bookstore, and, within 10 years, it became one of the most popular and largest bookstores in Los Angeles. The general bookstore’s 22,000-square-foot location—a former bank with marble columns and soaring ceilings—houses records and 300,000 new and used books on shelves, in vaults, and stacked as tunnels and archways. We spoke with manager Katie Orphan, The Last Bookstore’s first employee, about dollar books and weddings in the stacks.
How would you describe The Last Bookstore to the uninitiated?
It’s a wonderland of books, with everything from the newest release to a rare first edition and all you could want in between. We have carved out a space in a former bank building where we not only sell books, but also create unexpected details from books that would have otherwise been recycled.
If The Last Bookstore were a religion, what would be its tenets and icons?
There’s no such thing as too many books!
There’s a book for everyone, and we want to help you find yours.
Everyone should have a place to retreat from the hectic world outside, and we want to be that place.
Our icons might be our architectural features—and also people like John Waters who are advocates of reading and book ownership.
What was your favorite event and/or most memorable disaster?
We’ve had some really fun events over the years. One of my highlights was hosting Gretchen McNeil’s wedding and then Ransom Riggs and Tahereh Mafi’s wedding. They were private events, but it was so cool to host authors who wanted to celebrate their marriages in our store. We’ve also had some incredible author events. Leigh Bardugo launched Ruin and Rising, the third book in her Grisha trilogy, at our store, and there were hundreds of people in attendance, with a photo booth and treats galore.
How does the bookstore reflect the interests of your community?
We’ve become a tourist destination, so we’re always cognizant of what people who are just visiting might want as well as trying to cultivate relationships with our neighbors and locals. We get a lot of people coming in to take pictures for Instagram, so we pay attention to Instagram poets and bookstagrammers to know what our audience might want. We also want to celebrate Los Angeles literature, and we try to have a wide variety of local authors.
Our store is also in a really diverse area, with the full socio-economic spectrum represented, from homelessness to million-dollar lofts in our neighborhood. We try to honor the needs of all those who come in, so we have $1 books for those who need a cheap way to escape for a few hours, and we have rare books for thousands of dollars.
What trends are you noticing among young readers?
We love seeing the push for more diversity in the stories that are being told and have had great success with everything from picture books about biracial families to young adult novels about gender identity and discovering sexuality. Kids and young adults don’t seem to shy away from complicated issues that some adults are afraid to venture near. Of course, Dav Pilkey and Jeff Kinney still fly off our shelves, but I’m sure that’s true for everyone who sells books for young readers.
What are your favorite handsells?
One of my favorite writers is Claire Fuller, and I handsell all of her titles ardently. I am just shy of having sold 1,000 copies of her debut, Our Endless Numbered Days. Some of our other favorite staff handsells include Seth Fried’s first book, The Great Frustration, Julia Wertz’s Drinking at the Movies, Robert Hunter’s The New Ghost, and Jen Wang’s The Prince and the Dressmaker.Karen Schechner is the vice president of Kirkus Indie.