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Emporium of pages is a labor of love

Posted: March 5, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: March 5, 2011 1:55 a.m.

Charrie Eckert, left, and Janie Kopecky are owners of Paperback Emporium in Canyon Country, which is celebrating its 30th year of operation. The local, independent used-book seller carries nearly all genres, including Westerns, thrillers and historical romances, among others.

 

In a twist of literary irony, some ages-old, small, independent bookstores that once feared a premature retirement by the colossal growth of chain bookstores are still in business — while the superstores are engaged in a battle of survival.
Paperback Emporium of Canyon Country, sitting hidden from view behind the Denny’s Restaurant on Soledad Canyon Road, is still buying and selling used paperback books after 30 years in business.

The independent bookstore gets by with the loyal following of avid readers and customers who like the ability to trade their books for store credit, good for purchases on books shoppers have yet to read. The bookstore offers credit on books that are in-demand with readers.

“We accept trades and give shoppers 20 percent off of the cover price in credit,” co-owner Charrie Eckert said. In turn, the small bookstore sells its inventory of used books to shoppers for a percentage of the cover price.

Dying breed
Independent bookstores have rapidly become a dying breed for more than a decade since the big box bookstores washed over the American landscape.

Because of the trade-ins, Paperback Emporium carries any genre there is. Most of the books are fiction, including the occasional literary greats like “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

The bookstore also carries autobiographies as well as war, Western, horror, thriller and historical romance books. It also has cookbooks and self-help books on parenting, finance or inspirational topics.

Occasionally the store receives books autographed by the authors. In some cases, the authors themselves stopped by to leave autographed copies of their books.

“We get a lot of requests from kids looking for novels they need to read in school,” Eckert said. “We can often help them out but we don’t carry the titles in large volumes.”

Over the years, at least five independent bookstores in the city and San Fernando Valley have closed, Eckert recalled.

“We’re the only general bookstore out here that we know of,” Eckert said. “But we don’t make much make of a profit.”

Big boys
In a good story, the small bookstores would now rise from the ashes like the mythical phoenix in the face of growing financial problems experienced by the big-chain bookstores.

First, there was mega chain Crown Books, founded in Washington D.C. But the company self-destructed in the early ’90s in a media sensation when a bitter divorce and father-son split destroyed the company.

Then came Barnes & Noble with its humble beginnings as a book-printing business in 1873. The first bookstore was opened in 1917. The chain began opening megastores with coffee shops in the ’90s, but has spent millions in legal fees defending itself against a lawsuit by billionaire investor and grocery magnate Ron Burkle.

Meanwhile, overhead-heavy mega brick and mortar stores were slammed by the success of Internet sales. The company has considered putting itself up for sale.

Borders, launched by two University of Michigan students in 1971, made headlines last month when it announced it was filing for bankruptcy and closing nearly one-third of its stores, including its Valencia location.

Today all bookstores, chains and independents alike, are under assault not only from Internet sales but also by the rapid growth of e-readers.

Still, Paperback Emporium is hanging in there.

Book lovers
Co-owners Janie Kopecky and Charra Eckert have lovingly tended to Paperback Emporium over the decades, driven by a passion for used books.

Kopecky first purchased the store in 1987 when her spouse was an instructor at College of the Canyons. Eckert bought into the store in 1998.

A resident since 1969, Eckert trades off days for opening and staffing the small bookstore with Kopecky, who now lives in Ventura. Eckert even goes into the store on her days off to meet with her partner.

The pair both has a lifelong affinity for shopping for used books. People come into the store with special requests, and the two spend their spare time and vacations shopping at other used bookstores up and down the coast of California searching for readers’ favorite titles.

“Send us a list of books you want and we’ll look for them,” Eckert said. “If I find a book I’m looking for, it’s very exciting to me. It makes people so happy. You just can’t find many small bookstores anymore.”

Paperback Emporium is open Tuesday-Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and is located at 18928 Soledad Canyon Road between Whites Canyon and Sierra Highway, directly behind Denny’s. The owners can be reached at (661) 251-4508.

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