ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Yesterday, Los Angeles lost a significant part of its cultural landscape. Dutton's Books closed its doors for the last time. It's the latest in the stream of independent bookstores going out of business.

NPR's Karen Grigsby Bates visited Dutton's on closing day.

KAREN GRIGSBY BATES: Doug Dutton's customers started lining up at the doors of his bookstore in the Brentwood Section of Los Angeles first thing in the morning. Everyone wanted to say a fine goodbye to the store that had been a cultural touchstone for the city and to its owner. While his staff framed up deeply discounted last-minute sales, tearful friends came bearing flowers, which Dutton accepted with a wry joke.

Mr. DOUG DUTTON (Owner, Dutton's Books): They unusually bring this to funerals. I'm not sure. Is that's what going on here?

BATES: Pretty much. After two dozen years in business, Dutton's Brentwood has called it quits. Back in the quiet of his stockroom, Doug Dutton explains that the sky-high price of Brentwood real estate is one of the reasons he's closing. It would be too expensive to keep this signature space.

Mr. DAVID L. ULIN (Editor, Los Angeles Times): Here we've had this sort of rambling shell of the building that's surrounded a courtyard that was for all practical purposes, a reader's park. It had a very much of a community neighborhood feel.

BATES: David L. Ulin, the editor of the Los Angeles Times Book Review, says with Dutton's closing, Los Angeles is losing more than a bookstore.

Mr. ULIN: There was some kind of indefinable feeling of comfort, of culture, of intelligence, and I think that that's irreplaceable.

BATES: Dutton's was a reader's store, a place where prominent authors wanted to come and read and where new authors were nurtured and encouraged. Doug Dutton says helping new authors blossom was one of his greatest pleasures.

Mr. DUTTON: What could make you prouder? I mean, it's very much like a parent with a child. You see the success of these people who you liked and you admire, and you're as proud as can be when they break on to a best-seller list or chosen for a book award.

BATES: Holly Yu is one of one those authors. She dreamed of having a signing at Dutton's for years and worked up her nerve to ask about doing that when her first novel was published.

Ms. HOLLY YU (Author): They asked why I wanted to have it at Dutton's, and I said, well, this is the bookstore where I would hang out in your cafe and write and scribble away in my notebook. And some of my novel was originally written at your cafe. So it was sentimental, as well as I think it's a great bookstore.

BATES: Photojournalist Lester Sloan came for coffee in the morning and returned to document the store's last hours in the evening.

Mr. LESTER SLOAN (Photojournalist): I wanted to be here for the last goodbye, you know. I live around the corner, and this was like my sanctuary.

BATES: Sloan says Dutton's really was common ground for the rest of Los Angeles.

Mr. SLOAN: And this was a place where nothing mattered. You know, you left your identity outside, so to speak. And it wasn't uncommon to see Dustin Hoffman or Helen Hunt sitting in the corner, or Whoopi Goldberg in the back there.

BATES: At Dutton's, it was all about the books. As the evening wore on, people continue to stream in to hug the staff and picked up a few more books.

Mr. DUTTON: Hey, how are you doing? You, too. You, too.

(Soundbite of chanting)

BATES: Tables in the courtyard groaned with homemade baked goods brought by loving customers, and champagne corks popped. Despite the store's closing, Doug Dutton was a happy man.

Mr. DUTTON: You have these visions of final sales, of people pawing over things and pushing out of the way and driving for it. It's been a very civilized, lovely experience, and people handing other books to people, say, oh no, you should have this. It's been wonderful. It's really been wonderful.

BATES: An extraordinary ending for an extraordinary place.

Karen Grigsby Bates, NPR News.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.