Highland Park’s indie-publisher-founded North Figueora Bookshop

Highland Park has modified radically within the final 20 years. As in Silver Lake and Echo Park earlier than it, the predominantly Latino neighborhood has been inundated with artisanal espresso outlets, high-priced bars, tony eating places and classic boutiques which have raised rents and displaced longtime residents. Despite gentrification’s revolving door of recent companies on the hipster highways of York Boulevard and Figueroa Street, few bookstores have materialized or endured.

Book Show, a queer-friendly retailer with a unusual assortment of recent and used books and zines, closed in 2019. Pricey artwork bookstore Owl Bureau, which one Yelp reviewer maligned as “the apex of hipster gentrification,” shut down for renovations in 2021 with no phrase of reopening. York’s the Pop-Hop opened on the fringe of Highland Park in 2012 and has been the neighborhood’s lone bookstore for a few years. Now there’s a new store on the town, with neighborhood roots and the backing of publishers massive and small: North Figueroa Bookshop.

Co-founded by native unbiased publishers Unnamed Press and Rare Bird Lit, North Figueroa opened final November. It is perhaps Highland Park’s first unbiased retailer solely promoting new books this century. It’s actually the primary with a number of massive publishers as founding sponsors. Support from Grove Atlantic (the counterculture champion turned indie paragon) and Farrar, Straus and Giroux (by way of its younger, hip imprint MCD Books) ensures that each presses, like Unnamed and Rare Bird, have sections devoted to their books.

While publishers have paid for preferential bookshelf placement for years, it’s uncommon for a retailer to dedicate a number of sections to particular person publishers. But this isn’t precisely pay-to-play. Chris Heiser of Unnamed and Rare Bird’s Tyson Cornell have a extra unified imaginative and prescient for publishing and bookselling. Call it vertical integration for the little man. In a neighborhood catering to artisanal manufacturers, why not tout craft imprints as you’d craft beers?

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“We felt like we had an opportunity to connect more deeply with some of our favorite publishers,” Heiser defined, “and tell a story about publishing and the literary industry that was a little more holistic and more inclusive of the whole journey, from manuscript to published book.”

North Figueroa Bookshop unifies a hipster aesthetic with a bookish vibe.

North Figueroa Bookshop unifies a hipster aesthetic with a bookish vibe.

(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

North Figueroa Bookshop will facilitate that journey with greater than shelf area, internet hosting intimate meet-and-greets, readings, and different occasions with authors from the sponsoring imprints. While Grove Atlantic and MCD proceed cultivating their relationships with different L.A. bookstores, they now have a devoted West Coast outpost.

“I felt like an interesting chance for us to have an actual footprint [in the neighborhood] and feel like we’re participating in L.A. literary culture,” says MCD writer and FSG govt editor Sean McDonald. “It feels like a landing pad for us to find different ways to show what we’re doing.”

The bookstore, which sits kitty-corner from the not too long ago closed La Estrella Tacos and an area recreation middle, manages to unify a hipster aesthetic with a bookish vibe. Its identify and tagline (“Fresh + Independent”) are hand-painted in daring but whimsical black lettering with mint inexperienced accents on the largely white constructing. Opaque glass-block home windows obscure the inside, creating a way of thriller enhanced by the nice and cozy glow they emit at evening. While the signal of the wire producer that when operated right here nonetheless stands within the car parking zone, North Figueroa appears to be like much less industrial and extra like your favourite grade faculty library.

Heiser found the area in early 2022 whereas scouting workplaces for Unnamed, which has launched the careers of ladies authors like Bethany C. Morrow and Chelsea G. Summers. When the owner supplied him a number of models on the property, Heiser supplied Cornell a large rear unit for Rare Bird, a publishing firm and document label whose output encompasses musicians’ memoirs, vinyl audiobooks and delightful reissues of Jack Kerouac and J.G. Ballard. Cornell, a pal who’d suggested Heiser on launching Unnamed, jumped on the alternative. Opening the bookstore would take nearly a 12 months, however the concept occurred to the pair instantly.

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“We’re booksellers through and through,” Cornell says on a current Saturday morning earlier than the shop opens, the clacks of passing skate boarders intermingling with the tolling bells of the close by railroad crossing as he speaks. Before founding Rare Bird in 2009, Cornell spent a decade as advertising and marketing and publicity director of Book Soup in West Hollywood. Heiser labored at Los Feliz’s Skylight Books shortly earlier than beginning Unnamed. While retailer supervisor Mads Gobbo and the shop’s handful of part-time staff deal with many of the day-to-day operations, opening North Figueroa Bookshop was a return to the co-founders’ roots after years within the insular publishing world.

“I need to spend more time in the bookstore to reclaim [the bookseller title],” Cornell says. But he’s already feeling extra related to readers. “Without being a part of a bookstore from the inside out, I don’t have a pulse on what people are talking about.”

North Figueroa makes much of its 800 square feet, with more than 2,500 books and a cozy nook.

North Figueroa makes a lot of its 800 sq. ft, with greater than 2,500 books and a comfortable nook inviting browsers to sit down and browse potential purchases.

(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

Across a modest 800 sq. ft, there’s no scarcity of literature to debate. More than 2,500 books are organized on 12-foot, floor-to-ceiling bookcases and waist-high e-book carts parked on the uncovered concrete flooring. A small glass desk with vivid yellow chairs invitations patrons to have a seat and crack open a potential buy. There’s a variety to select from — younger grownup, manga, Spanish-language books, a wall show devoted to Iranian authors and a cart of California lit the place Raymond Chandler’s hard-boiled novels stand cover-to-cover with Mike Davis’ treatises of doom-filled urbanism.

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The most notable bookcase is only a few brief strides from the entrance door. A sturdy fiction assortment populates the middle cabinets, flanked by sections dedicated to the 4 founding publishers.

“People are interested and curious about this curation method, so as the booksellers, we get to be ambassadors for the different presses,” says Gobbo. A longtime bookseller, she’s labored all over the place from Picador — FSG’s paperback imprint — to Skylight, the place she first met Heiser and Cornell. “This particular type of bookselling, a small neighborhood bookstore, feels like folks from the neighborhood have a very direct hand in shaping our inventory.”

That native affect is rising deliberately and organically. Gobbo curated a small native authors bookcase, which incorporates handmade books and zines created by Highland Park residents. Gobbo is speaking to Book Show proprietor Jen Hitchcock about bringing in a handpicked choice of its used books; she’s additionally working with North Figueroa’s new occasions supervisor to host community-centric occasions akin to its February love poem workshop. Equally vital, North Figueroa is hiring regionally.

“As soon as I saw we had a bookstore in Highland Park, I was like, ‘I’ve waited for this my whole life,’” says 24-year-old retailer bookseller Ezequiel Ramos, who’s helped spherical out the shop’s YA part. Born and raised in Highland Park, they’re as delighted to work at North Figueroa as they’re by its worth to the neighborhood. “It’s nice to have a bookshop nearby where everyone who might want to buy books growing up has a place they can stop by after school.”

From left, store manager Madeline Gobbo, Rare Bird founder Tyson Cornell hold up books at North Figueroa Bookshop.

From left, North Figueroa retailer supervisor Madeline Gobbo and founders Tyson Cornell and Chris Heiser dig into some favourite books.

(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

The advantages for Highland Park residents additionally include skilled benefits for Unnamed and Rare Bird. Both Heiser and Cornell say it helps their imprints to see how in-store presentation impacts gross sales and what’s doing effectively from different publishers. Ultimately, although, they’re most grateful for his or her proximity to the ineffable magic all bookstores possess.

“You don’t have to be an inveterate reader to walk into a bookstore and find some comfort,” Heiser says. “You can just be someone who needs a place away from all the noise.”

Bell is a journalist and author from Santa Monica.