In a day where independent bookstores and chains like Barnes and Noble seem to fold more often than dollar bills, what is the secret of Venice’s staying open?
"We own the building, so the rent is not going up," owner Mary Goodfader said simply.
Goodfader’s mother founded the store in Marina del Rey in 1969, where they stocked more nautical books.
In 1976, Goodfader’s late husband found the current location boarded up on then then-grungy Venice Boardwalk. Thinking it would be nice to have a little café to go with the bookstore, they opened the restaurant next door, even though the Goodfaders had never run an eatery before.
The timing was perfect since they opened just before the peak of the Venice roller skating boom, turning the Sidewalk Café into one of the best people watching locations on Oceanfront Walk.
Now, Small World Books is a family tradition. Goodfader took over from her mother, her daughter now works there, and her 3-year-old grandson is frequently in the shop. But the current state of bookselling, she’s not sure that he’ll be able to work there.
"It’s hard to compete against Amazon. It’s criminal that that company doesn’t pay a sales tax,” she said.
Still, as people move to online and digital purchases, there is one thing that Small World Books offers those other outlets don't: a human touch.
“The best thing we offer is the personal genuine, book recommendation," Goodfaber said.
Manager Bonnie Reynolds has worked at Small World Books for more than 30 years. At the end of every summer, she displays what she read and liked over vacation.
Janice Mall has also worked there for years and has her own table of recommendations. The entire staff takes pride in reading and sharing its reaction to the books. All agreed that the best part of working at Small World was interacting with their customers.
"Because this is a tourist destination, I get to recommend books to people from all over the world," Mall said.
The store stocks a good selection on Venice history, has a mystery annex and does well with Los Angeles writers T.C. Boyle and Bukowski.
“It’s very satisfying matching the right book with the right person,” Reynolds said.
When I moved here from New York City in 1980, I found that Small World Books was one of the few places in our community that sold the New York Times. The staff was nice enough to save a daily copy for me until I could come by and pick it up a couple of times a week.
So, in this digital age, why does Goodfaber continue to keep Small World Books open?
“It’s a labor of love,” she said.