Culture Report: An Independent San Diego Bookstore Is Growing
With the ink barely dry on a new lease, Verbatim Books owner Justine Epstein unlocked the former dentist office next door to the existing used and rare book shop to show me around the new space.
“I made this bookstore for people like me,” Epstein said, of her fundamental business plan. “To have a space for all the good books.”
Three years ago, when Verbatim Books opened its doors, Epstein didn’t anticipate what the space would mean for the literary community, for the readers who find and provide books for the space and for the people who write the books and foster literary community in San Diego.
With a new space, she is turning her attention to that community. The addition could nearly triple the store’s square footage, meaning there’ll be plenty of room for more books, but also more space to linger, and more room for bigger – and more frequent – events.
Epstein said that the readings held in the current space are popular and well-attended, and that she often hesitates to promote them, lest they have to turn people away.
“We want these events to be free and open to everyone, but how can we do that if there’s no room?”
Event space in San Diego is a struggle in literature. Bookstores are the natural choice, but are often small, or have limited availability. Bars are too loud for a non-exclusive event (and the likelihood of an exclusive event is low) and theaters have too high an overhead for a non-ticketed event.
“I just see it as part of the store,” Epstein said, when asked whether events at Verbatim are profitable in terms of book sales or new customers. “I don’t think of it that way. I see it as a benefit to our customers.”
San Diego’s independent bookstore scene garnered a lot of recent attention — locally and nationwide —for good reason. The community of booksellers banded together to aid The Book Catapult’s Seth Marko and his family while Marko recovered from major surgery, but it wasn’t the first time local booksellers have supported one another in tangible ways. A small group of independent bookstores owners and employees started the San Diego Independent Bookstore Day Crawl (SD Book Crawl) three years ago as a way to celebrate each other and the book community in San Diego. The third annual Book Crawl will happen April 27-29, and again involves nine independent bookstores. Since the second year, they lost Coronado’s Bay Books (a tragedy of real estate, according to the Union-Tribune) but gained the brand new Run for Cover Books in Ocean Beach.
Each store in San Diego’s indie bookstore community serves a slightly different purpose or neighborhood, Epstein said. She focuses her business prowess on a more streamlined inventory system for the used bookstore model, her well-honed penchant for rare book purchasing and ultimately, San Diego readership.
“Almost all of our books come from San Diego,” she said. Meandering through Verbatim’s signature stacks means a customer is perusing the actual books that other San Diegans recently read. “The variety of the books is extreme. I see a new book every single day.”
While the former dental tenant took all of the cool chairs (known officially as “dental engines”), Epstein hopes to keep a few of the treatment room cubbies for special corners and cozy nooks inside the expanded store. The landlord has owned the building since the 1960s, and before that, Verbatim’s current space and the dentist office to the north technically used to be one large space (an orthodontist).
Epstein isn’t exactly sure why Verbatim Books — and bookstore culture as a whole in San Diego — has survived, but she always knew that it would. “I never really doubted that there would be room for what we wanted to do here.”
Demolition on the new space is underway.
Baseball, Tchaikovsky Bangers, a Friendly Comic Con and More News for the Culture Crowd
- A new exhibition opens at MOPA this week. “Defining Place/Space: Contemporary Photography from Australia” explores global issues, including “large-scale photoshopped work of alien invasions in London reflecting the colonization of Australia,” which sounds pleasant. And don’t forget that MOPA is always “pay what you wish” donation-based.
- Lux Art Institute’s spring classes start this week.
- Every published piece of writing about “Angels in America” uses the word “epic.” The two-part play set in the 1980s American AIDs landscape begins this week at Cygnet Theaters. This two-part production is a major undertaking, and it makes me want to see the set director’s clipboard. (U-T)
- With “the friendly, intimate comic convention experience” as its tagline, it might as well have called itself “the kinder, gentler Comic-Con.” Comic Fest runs March 7-10 and features exhibitors, artists, workshops and panels.
- On Friday, celebrate Manny Machado’s recent rejuvenation of Padres Twitter TM and International Women’s Day by floating around in the Lafayette’s pool with a cocktail and some ballpark snacks, watching “A League of Their Own.” Frankly, celebrate any day with that.
- Saturday afternoon, MCASD hosts the free pop-up Family ArtLab: Assemblage at UTC La Jolla. Make upcycled, found art with your kids.
- The 2019 Youth Art Show at San Diego Pride on Saturday commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots and is part of a full season of programming leading up to Pride.
- Venus is an all-woman art show at La Bodega, opening Saturday and running just through March 17, and that lineup looks amazing.
- On Sunday, the San Diego Youth Symphony and Conservatory holds its winter showcases. The afternoon performance features emerging and intermediate programs, while the evening show is the advanced groups. Both showtimes feature some bangers, including Copland’s “Appalachian Spring,” Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture” and an arrangement of … “Can’t Stop the Feeling”?
- AOC retweeted UCSD digital humanities librarian Erin Glass this week. We’re all very proud. It’s about how libraries are special as spaces, and an invitation to the public to rethink the way we gather and build community.
- At OMA, the “San Diego Surreal” exhibition celebrates contemporary California artists, as well as some earlier greats. It runs through June. (KPBS)
- Writers! The library’s second annual Short Story Contest is open for entries now through April 5 (or until they meet their 150 submission limit). Pen something cash-worthy.
Food, Beer, Booze and Cannabis News
- Ah, beer festival season* is upon us! (*it never ends). Best Coast Beer Fest is this Saturday at the Embarcadero.
- Mike Hess Brewing recently partially opened its planned complex in Imperial Beach, with City Tacos. The rest of the plan is slated to be built in the next phase. (West Coaster)
- San Diego’s Lionfish restaurant was honored by the James Beard Foundation for responsibly sourced seafood. (Food & Wine)
- Here’s an in-depth roundup of the amazing things women are doing in the food and beverage scene. (Pacific)
- According to this brand new Leafly jobs report, California contributed $2.47 billion in legal cannabis sales with over 66,000 jobs supported by cannabis in 2018. The weed news and information org is estimates some 10,000 jobs will be added to the market in California in 2019.
What’s Inspiring Me Right Now
- I’m currently reading this essay by Alejandra Oliva on the migrant caravan, Virginia Woolf and the sea. “What I can tell you about helping people fill out asylum applications will sound a lot like voices from the dark: snippets of story, the 20 worst moments of 20 people’s lives, one after the other and stripped of names and faces, so depersonalized as to seem meaningless.” (Electric Literature)
- My kids made me turn up NPR this morning when The Atlantic’s Taylor Lorenz discussed her recent article about kids growing up to find they already have an online presence, thanks to their parents and social media. “Yeah, mama,” one completely anonymous child in the car said, accusingly.
- This feature on a Seattle Weekly delivery driver’s last delivery of the paper’s last print issue got me emotional on many levels. “After 11 years of delivering the Seattle Weekly, Doug Latta knows where the public bathrooms are.” (Crosscut)
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