In L.A., Dutton's Books Reaches Final Chapter

Doug and Penny Dutton

Doug and Penny Dutton pause during their store's final day in business. Karen Grigsby Bates hide caption

itoggle caption Karen Grigsby Bates
Dutton's courtyard

Readers liked to bring prospective purchases to Dutton's courtyard for browsing. "It really became a reader's park," says Doug Dutton. Paula Yoo. hide caption

itoggle caption Paula Yoo.

It's not every bookstore that draws the media to its doorstep at 4:30 a.m. without a celebrity or scandal in sight, but that's how strongly customers felt about Dutton's Books of Los Angeles. Before dawn on April 30, its last day in business, reporters from local television stations had already been to the store for their stand-ups — then rushed off to cover the latest spate of wildfires.

The independent bookstore has been a fixture in the tony Brentwood neighborhood since 1984. But, facing debt and bruising competition from big-box stores, it met the fate of other small booksellers. As its Web site noted, it's "the end of the aisle."

"I wanted to come in for a last goodbye," said photojournalist Lester Sloan, who stopped by at 7:30 for coffee and a visit with the café staff who'd been serving him for years.

Sloan watched as a man carefully rolled a café table to his car waiting at the curb. On this last day, everything was for sale: books, bookcases, fixtures, the works.

Why buy a table that has clearly seen better days?

"History," Sloan explained. "And community. This place definitely established community in a city that's often accused of not having any."

At Dutton's, the reader came first. And unlike the homogenized décor of most chain stores, Dutton's was built around a courtyard.

"People would bring their books out and sit under a tree, go through them and decide what they wanted and return the rest," remembered owner Doug Dutton, who looks like an older version of "Grey's Anatomy" actor Patrick Dempsey. "It really became a sort of reader's park. It was a real community."

The community had no boundaries. It encompassed neighborhood locals, including celebs such as Dustin Hoffman and Jamie Lee Curtis; people from across the city; and tourists. One of Dutton's fondest memories centers on a reading of a new translation of The Illiad in 1991. A girl visiting with her East Coast family was so entranced, she chose to go to the University of California, Los Angeles. Later, she returned with her boyfriend on many evenings to do homework in Dutton's café. The two are now married.

Though he was closing a labor of love, Dutton focused on the positive.

"I consider myself a lucky man," he said, looking around as customers and staff toasted each other with Champagne. "For a quarter of a century, I've been surrounded with what I love: books and readers. I've had wonderful customers, a wonderful staff. What more could a man ask for? Sad? It would be unseemly."

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