Acres of Books becomes acres of heartache
“This is my home. I love this place. I love the smell of it,” Ray Bradbury said, his blue eyes shining behind his plastic framed glasses. “[Chain bookstores] don’t smell the same way … an old book smells like Egyptian incense.”
Pulitzer Prize-winning author Ray Bradbury, 86, made a farewell visit to Bertrand Smith’s Acres of Books, California’s largest secondhand bookstore, on Wednesday. The 74-year-old bookstore is slated for demolition in 2009 due to its purchase by the City of Long Beach Redevelopment Agency.
As part of a voluntary agreement, Acres of Books, located at 240 Long Beach Blvd, has been allowed to remain in its current location until May 2009, but Acres of Books employees said that owners Phil and Jackie Smith are planning to be out of the building by October.
“Properties are being cleared to make room for the … Broadway Block project, which will include residential and commercial developments, as well as a public art center,” said the LBRDA’s communications officer, Victoria Ballesteros, in a prepared statement.
According to Ballesteros, part of LBRDA’s mission is to enhance quality of life by improving blighted areas of Long Beach and promoting economic development.
But the impending closure has left a few costumers displeased.
“People [that] have been coming for years are in disbelief,” said Acres of Books’ employee Amber Green.
“If they’re gonna’ build a mall, they should build it around [Acres of Books],” Bradbury said, pumping his fists in the air, his long white hair swaying around his shaking head.
In 1990 Acres of Books was named a Cultural Heritage Landmark by the City of Long Beach and was featured as one of the top five best bookstores in the Los Angeles area by MyFox L.A.’s Hotlist in 2007.
“This should be a shrine. There should be a crucifix out front … I’d come and bless it,” Bradbury said.
Bradbury has intervened with the city several times on the behalf of the store.
“He’s sort of like our patron saint,” said employee Aaron Olson.
“I saved this bookstore 12 years ago,” Bradbury recalled. “I called the mayor and he helped me save [it].”
Bradbury suggested calling the mayor again.
“I’m offering my spirit … I’m offering my love,” Bradbury said. “I hope to get the mayor to join me in this love … and throw our arms around 10,000 … books!”
The store’s narrow aisles hold books in nearly every category and holds up to one million used books in stock, according to the store’s website.
“This bookstore hasn’t changed … it’s only gotten better,” Bradbury said, looking around the store’s music room. “You can find things [here] you didn’t even know existed.”
In 1989 Bradbury wrote about his love for the bookstore in “I Sing the Bookstore Eclectic,” a short essay in California magazine: “It is a labyrinth. A tomb. A catacomb. A maze. It is the best walk-through multimedia experience … “
Bradbury has frequented the bookstore since 1948, and still owns a John Steinbeck novel he bought on his first visit.
Out of the 5,000 books in his personal library, Bradbury said about 500 were purchased at Acres of Books.
“I bring all my friends down here,” he said. “Once or twice a year I force them to come here. I won’t let them go anywhere else.”
Bradbury has published over 100 literary works, including “Fahrenheit 451″ and “The Martian Chronicles.”