The Last (Used) Bookstore
Situated between a Kung Fu studio and Karen’s Kitchen, right past the intersection of Tenth West and Palmdale Boulevard, the Lil Book Bug bookstore is easy to miss. Removed from west Palmdale’s main business hub-the intersection of Tenth West and Avenue P, where the mall is located-it hovers in obscurity. The sign doesn’t even say “Lil Book Bug”, though if you search that name you can find the store’s Facebook page and website. It simply reads “Books: New & Used” in blue and red lettering against a white background. Walk in on any given day and you’ll be met with stacks of books and rows of shelves, bookended (pun intended) by Nag Champa incense, bundles of sage, tote bags, and houseplants. A couple of old style clocks poke out from the walls.
The shop has been there since 1998, and according to it’s owner, Rosechel Sinio, it’s the last of five used bookstores that used to operate in the Antelope Valley area. Sinio runs the Lil Book Bug with a staff of four others, not counting two cats and a friendly dog named Toby I met before our interview. Those employees all have experience at major booksellers like Barnes and Noble or the erstwhile Waldenbooks. When asked what led her to open a used bookstore, she told me she’s been “book obsessed forever.” Despite being minutes away from a Barnes and Noble, Sinio told me that her shop wasn’t in competition with them, because the Lil Book Bug sells mostly used books. “We have no problems co-habitating,” she said, “it’s not like a ‘You’ve Got Mail’ situation.” If customers are looking for new releases her store doesn’t have, she’ll send them over to Barnes and Noble, and the larger retailer has done the same for her.
She explained that their business mostly comes from word-of-mouth reference or people happening across the store: “I’ve had people come in and tell me, ‘We were eating at the Sizzler across the street and saw your store’ when they come in.” If the store were located in Canyon Country or Santa Clarita, Sinio believes they might get more traffic. Despite the store’s low-key nature, people that find it seem to really like it. It has four and a half stars on Yelp, and one reviewer described it as “a sweet little bookstore,” in March of this year, while another lists it as his “favorite store in the whole Antelope Valley” in a 2011 review.
The store definitely has a loyal customer base, whom Sinio called the “bread and butter” of the shop. People who know about it have been coming there for years to buy and trade books, and there is a decently varied selection. The two largest walls in the store are mostly occupied by mystery and romance novels, but there are also nonfiction, young adult, poetry, and new-release sections; a Murakami novel released last year was on the shelf for just under eight dollars. Rolling racks of older hardcover novels were sitting our front, most of which were around two dollars, and a shelf inside at the front of the store is reserved for local author’s work. People who trade in their books or check into the store on Facebook get a discount. Books that come into the store are pretty meticulously cared for: pencil marks are erased, tears repaired, grime on the edges of pages sanded off, and books are disinfected with rubbing alcohol before they’re released to be sold. If there is damage that couldn’t be fully repaired, a note lets customers know, or it’s moved to the fifty cent shelf, which Sinio recommended as a good place to find new authors to read. If you don’t like the book, you’re not out a lot of money.
Money has become a concern for the Lil Book Bug. Sinio said during our interview that in-store business had slowed down, hence the incense and bags; decreasing demand for physical books means the store has to vary what’s on offer to sell. With the holiday season coming up, they plan on bringing in even more of these specialty items. Even so, Sinio believes that there will always be people like her with a desire to have, read, and trade physical copies of books. Much like CD or vinyl enthusiasts, it seems there is a steadfastly loyal niche market for used physical copies of books that’s kept the shop in business for the last seventeen years.
Lil Book Bug plans to team up with the Palmdale City Library for a young adult (or YA) fiction event, and Sinio hopes it will bring some more attention to the store. If successful, more events featuring other genres would follow. A big draw to the store lately has been virtual book signings; Sinio will reach out to an author and they’ll come into the store to sign copies of their books for readers to buy. If someone wants a signed copy but they’re out of state or out of the country (one author did a virtual signing while in town from Melbourne, Australia) then they can submit their name, address, preferred shipping method, and notes to the author via a Google doc posted on the store’s Facebook page for each signing. Payments for virtual signings get processed via PayPal. The latest signing was by Andrew Peterson, author of a series of military thrillers.
So far, the Lil Book Bug has survived the changing and difficult landscape of what Sinio called the “physical book business.” It has the market cornered for used books in the Antelope Valley, and a loyal-if small-patronage. If new efforts like their partnership with the Palmdale Library can raise awareness, the store should have no problem continuing on as it has been: a literary time capsule in an ever-more-digital world.
This story was originally published in the Acton/Agua Dulce News, Lake Los Angeles News, and Rosamond News.