Vroman’s Bookstore – Pasadena Landmark by Kwei Quartey

by Jessica on November 10, 2017

Mystery author and friend of the store, Kwei Quartey, has given us a little praise with this wonderful blog article on his website. The full article is below.

Original post can be seen here.


VROMAN’S BOOKSTORE–PASADENA LANDMARK
by Kwei Quartey
From time to time, I blog about an independent bookstore of note, e.g. Marcus Books. A couple of weeks ago on October 14, I had a book signing at Vroman’s Bookstore in my hometown of Pasadena, California for the launch of Death By His GraceInspector Dawson novel #5. As Vroman’s approaches its 123rd birthday, it’s fitting to talk about its historical and cultural importance in Southern California generally and Pasadena in particular.

Vroman's Bookstore entrance

Vroman’s Bookstore rear entrance
(Photo: Kwei Quartey)

Vroman's Bookstore rear courtyard

Vroman’s Bookstore rear courtyard
(Photo: Kwei Quartey)

Launching Death By His Grace at Vroman's Bookstore Oct 14, 2017

Launching Death By His Grace at Vroman’s Bookstore Oct 14, 2017 (Photo: Mike Pashtorian)

A brief history of Vroman’s Bookstore

The oldest and largest independent bookstore in Southern California, Vroman’s is named after Adam Clark Vroman, who founded the store in 1894. The original Vroman’s Book and Photographic Supply store was located at 60 E. Colorado St in Pasadena, California. Now it’s at 695 E. Colorado Blvd.

Wall banner of Vroman's Bookstore c. 1910 (Photo of banner: Kwei Quartey)

Wall banner of Vroman’s Bookstore c. 1910 (Photo of banner: Kwei Quartey)

Mr. Vroman loved books and valued giving back to his community, which remains a core principle of the bookstore till t0day.

Arthur C. Vroman, founder of Vroman's Bookstore, in his office around 1900

 Arthur C. Vroman, consummate gentleman and founder of Vroman’s Bookstore, in his office around 1900
(Photo from Historic Pasadena: An Illustrated History, by Ann Scheid, Ann Scheid Lund)

He was born in 1856 in La Salle Illinois. When he moved to Pasadena in 1892, he was hoping that a change in climate would help preserve the health of his infirm wife, Esther. Regrettably, that wasn’t to be the case, and she died two years later. Vroman wanted to remain in Pasadena and he opened the city’s first bookstore on November 15, 1894 in partnership with stationer J.S. Glassock.  At the time, one hotel, a blacksmith shop and a butcher comprised the business district. Mr. Vroman was also a passionate photographer, specializing in scenes of the American West and his portraits of the Hopi Indians and other cultures of the American Southwest. When Mr. Vroman died in 1916, he had built a solid business with loyal employees in whom he had shown deep interest. His friend and associate George F. Howell, became president of the newly incorporated bookstore when Vroman died. Allan David Sheldon, Vroman’s godson, succeeded Howell in 1920. The Sheldons continued to own and run Vroman’s and the bookstore’s present chairman is Joel Sheldon. 

Mr. Vroman’s legacy of philanthropy has continued. The store has supported causes through food drives, holiday gift drives, free HIV testing, bone marrow donor match drives, pet adoption days, and the Vroman’s Gives Back program. Vroman’s Gives Back is a charity program that donates a portion of customers’ purchases to local nonprofits, including public radio stations, arts centers, family services, and programs supporting literacy.

Vroman's Bookstore food drive (Photo: Kwei Quartey)

Vroman’s Bookstore food drive
(Photo: Kwei Quartey)

Vroman’s Bookstore author events

Like other bookstores, Vroman’s holds book discussions and signings, but most bookstores don’t have the luxury of space that Vroman’s has on its second floor for author events.

Vroman's Bookstore event space

Vroman’s Bookstore event space
(Photo: Kwei Quartey)

Children's Institute attendees attending a panel at Vroman's Bookstore in 2015

Packed Children’s Institute attendees attending a panel at Vroman’s Bookstore in 2015
(Photo: American Booksellers Association)

I’ve signed with Vroman’s for every novel in the Inspector Darko Dawson series, starting with Wife Of The Gods up till the present Death By His Grace.

Reading at Vroman's Bookstore

Reading at Vroman’s Bookstore Oct 14, 2017

Every week the Vroman’s bestsellers are displayed. During the week after an author’s book signing, it’s common for his or her book to hold a high placing on the list, even if short-lived.

Vroman's Bookstore bestsellers (photo: Kwei Quartey)

Vroman’s Bookstore bestsellers
(Photo: Kwei Quartey)

The other bestseller display in the store derives from the Los Angeles Times bestseller list.

Los Angeles Times Bestsellers at Vroman's Bookstore (Photo: Kwei Quartey)

Los Angeles Times Bestsellers at Vroman’s Bookstore
(Photo: Kwei Quartey)

Vroman’s treats its local authors very well, but national and international powerhouse writers have flocked to the bookstore too, including Louise Penny (Canada), Jo Nesbø [pronounced “You Nes-buh”](Norway), President Bill Clinton, President Jimmy Carter, Irving Stone, Upton Sinclair, Ray Bradbury, David Sedaris, Salman Rushdie, Walter Mosely, Joan Didion, Barbara Walters, Anne Rice, Neil Gaiman, and Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

Happily for me, a mystery writer, the Mystery section of the store is one of the largest.

Mystery section at Vroman's Bookstore (Photo: Kwei Quartey)

Mystery section at Vroman’s Bookstore (Photo: Kwei Quartey)

Diversification

I’m no financial wizard, but adding diverse merchandise besides books to a bookstore is a smart move, particularly during times in which the paper book is “under attack,” such as when the Kindle e-reader arrived in 2007 and doomsayers predicted the imminent death of the paper book. Clearly, the prediction has proved wrong, thank goodness, but it doesn’t hurt to stock “supportive” merchandise.

Vroman's Bookstore Pens & Stationary

Vroman’s Bookstore Pens & Stationary
(Photo: Kwei Quartey)

Part-time Vroman's Bookstore employee and actor/producer Michael "Dean" Porter in the gift shop

Part-time Vroman’s Bookstore employee and actor/producer Michael “Dean” Porter in the gift shop
(Photo: Kwei Quartey)

Vroman’s Bookstore and children

Vroman’s has recognized the importance of investing in children, and it has a large kids’ section.

Kids section at Vroman's Bookstore (Photo: Kwei Quartey)

Kids section at Vroman’s Bookstore (Photo: Kwei Quartey)

Every Wednesday and Saturday at 10 AM, the bookstore’s own Mr. Steve holds a children’s storytime. The smaller Hastings Ranch store also has a kids’ storytime on Tuesday mornings.

Vroman's Bookstore Mr Steve reading to kids on a Wednesday morning (Photo: Kwei Quartey)

Vroman’s Bookstore Mr. Steve reading to kids on a Wednesday morning
(Photo: Kwei Quartey)

Getting children into reading early is a way to ensure that generations to come will continue to read, which means Vroman’s Bookstore will continue for another 120 years, and 120 after that, which is good news for authors and readers alike.