Arcadia’s best-loved used book shop faces unique challenges
There’s nothing like the smell of a book shop, especially one that specializes in used books. In Arcadia, there is a little book shop that has been doing business for over 30 years and miraculously survives during this pandemic. It’s definitely a labor of love.
To paraphrase the Beatles’ song “Paperback Writer,” please sir or madam will you take a look it took years to build — business that is — will you buy a book? The COVID-19 pandemic has hit us hard; perhaps none more so than small businesses, like restaurants and local retailers, like Karen Kropp, owner of the classic paperback bookshop known simply as The Book Rack.
Seventeen years ago, Kropp took over the business from the original owner, Pat Carlson, who started the business in Arcadia 35 years ago and with whom she originally passionately worked.
Over the years, Kropp has developed a faithful following, including a host of students from the local high school who graduated and want to help Kropp during this pandemic.
One such student, Mina Kasama, who worked part-time while at Arcadia High School has decided to start a GoFundMe account to help Kropp continue to operate the one-of-a-kind bookshop.
Kasama, who Kropp says is a remarkable young woman, took it upon herself to start the fund which has already raised almost $6,000 in just a few days.
“The Book Rack has also provided many local high school students with their first jobs, giving them valuable workplace experience for the future. The COVID-19 pandemic has made times hard for many small businesses, and The Book Rack is no different. We are reaching out to ensure that we can continue inspiring young readers and providing our customers with new and exciting reads for many years to come. The need for these funds is immediate to ensure that our small business can continue to weather the pandemic and remain open once it is over. All funds will go towards rent, utility bills, maintenance, and the day-to-day running of The Book Rack,” Kasama wrote on the GoFundMe page (gofundme.com/f/save-our-local-bookstore).
Not only does Kropp have to deal with the overwhelming power of online resellers like Amazon, but the internet in general has killed a huge number of bookstores worldwide — big names too, like Borders and Barnes & Noble for example.
Demographics have played a significant role too, says Kropp. Young people who tend to be more inclined to read on their cellphones or play video games are less likely to visit a book shop, especially one where the paperback is king.
Somehow, The Book Rack is the little book shop that could and will survive for one simple reason: Kropp’s passion and love of reading just about anything.
“Books are life…imagination, love. Reading takes you into another world and inspires all kinds of things,” Kropp told Arcadia Weekly Monday. “It doesn’t even matter what you read, even if you read a cereal box,” says Kropp, “you open your mind to another world,” she said great gusto.
When asked about the virus affecting sales of any paper products like her books, Kropp will quickly point out that even if a page was “contaminated by a COVID-like virus” it would last less than 30 minutes, though the science on this varies. According to the CDC, “Transmission of coronavirus occurs much more commonly through respiratory droplets than through objects and surfaces, like doorknobs, countertops, keyboards, toys, etc. Current evidence suggests that SARS-CoV-2 may remain viable for hours to days on surfaces made from a variety of materials.” The CDC does not consider surface-to-person transmission a main way the virus spreads.
Kropp’s passion for books is evident from the moment you step into the tiny shop. Neatly shelved and with so many titles, you’d be hard pressed not to find something you’d be interested in. The shop is stunningly clean and full to the brim with stories old and new, for young, those of us at a certain age, and just about everyone in between. The Book Rack has been a landmark small business in Downtown Arcadia for decades.
What’s Kropp’s favorite book, we asked. “’The Great Gatsby,’ and anything by F.Scott Fitzgerald,” the longtime bookstore owner said without skipping a beat. “The Great Gatsby” explores themes of decadence, idealism, resistance to change, and social upheaval in the 1920s — not unlike our world today.
Perhaps Kropp, who has two children and five grandchildren, has created a cautionary portrait now in the 2020s — her American Dream — The Book Rack.
The Book Rack is located at 204 S. First Ave., Arcadia, CA 91006. It is open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and closed on Sundays. For more information, call (626) 446-2525.