San Diego Bookstores, like food stores, range from supermart to gourmet shop. This somewhat subjective guide to a dozen or so notable San Diego book stores is compiled with hopes to satisfy every book-buyer’s taste, and perhaps to inspire the casual reader to become a serious browser. The stores are grouped according to their atmosphere and contents, rather than by number and volumes or managerial philosophy.
Jane Weisman Stein
For the habitual book store browser, there are four exceptional stores that encourage undisturbed perusal of their wares.
At The Mithras Book Store, the sounds of baroque or classical music lend an inspirational background for serious browsing, while comfortable chairs beckon browsers to relax. The books are organized by topic, and although the sections are not all labelled, the friendly sales people are helpful in pointing customers in the right direction. Sculptures, dried flowers, and various objects of art are interspersed between the volumes. The Mithras offers a relatively large selection of books about mysticism, the occult, poetry, and philosophy, as well as an interesting array of children’s books. The books are divided fairly equally between new paperbacks and used hardcover volumes. Classical, jazz, blues and imported albums, (where else can you find native music from Vietnam — both North and South — Bolivia or Bulgaria?), art post cards, and hand-strung beads are also offered for sale. The Mithras is an integral part of the Unicorn Cinema. Theater patrons must pass through the book store to enter the auditorium. 7456 La Jolla Boulevard, La Jolla.. 459-4343. Open 10 a.m. to midnight every day.
Traveling inland, to North Park, the book lover can visit The Controversial Book Store. The
hospitable owner of the small, neat store explains that “controversial” means “debatable,” according to the dictionary, and “there isn’t a book out that isn’t debatable!” The store features books about economics, philosophy, sociology, and a wonderful group of paper back dictionaries and thesauruses. Several tables are piled with best selling books, gift books, and art books. Browsing is encouraged by the Controversial Book Store, although sitting down is not.
Be sure to examine the big table in the rear of the store. Ft is packed with hundreds of used paperbacks, all selling for ten cents each. 3021 University Avenue, San Diego. 296-1560. Monday through Saturday. 9:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Fridays until 8:00 p.m.
One of the most peaceful places to be surrounded by books is in one of the most bustling downtown corners. VVahrenbrock's Book House, at Sixth and Broadway. This huge, overstuffed book store is the city’s oldest, and the store personnel seem the most
knowledgable. A girl asks for a certain book, and the manager asks. “Are you in Miss So-and-So’s class?” And then to his assistant: “This home ec professor out at State assigns the same thing to her students, year after year.” And then he gives her three or four suggestions.
As you enter, thousands of colored stacks of used hardcover books tower above, tall ladders on both the front and back of the store. The atmosphere is quiet and cool, even during the busy downtown lunch hour.
Browsing is a pleasure with the sales people eager to help, but waiting to be asked. The sections are clearly marked and it seems no topic is excluded at Wahrenbrock’s — history, theatre, war, travel — every branch of science and philosophy, literature and civilization, travel and art are here. This is also the place to come for out-of-print or antique books. The stairways are edged with incredible multi-volumed sets. A twelve volume set of the Dispatches of the Duke of Wellington, complete with a signed letter from the Duke, can be bought for 555.
Downstairs in the cool basement is one of the most complete paperback book collections I visited. 649 Broadway, San Diego, 232-0132. Open Monday through Thursday 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and on Fridays until 9:00 p.m.
While you are downtown, it is worth a walk to the Bargain Book Store, also one of San Diego’s oldest book emporiums. The store is extremely neat; the books appear to be carefully dusted and straightened daily. Most of the volumes are used, hardcover books. Used paperbacks are stacked in the middle aisle shelves. The section of books on Americana is fascinating and impressive, and one can Find National Geographic Magazines dating from the early I900’s. Sets of historical works, and out-of-print books are also featured in this quiet, uncluttered book store. 1053 Eighth Avenue, San Diego.
Though normally a phenomenon of only the large city, even specialty bookstores can be found in San Diego. The Gospel Bible Book Store, for example, offers a unique and extensive group of religious books. This huge, department Store-like book store has a complete selection of Christian writings, Bibles, records, posters.
and even religious toys and postcards. There are so many books, pamphlets, guides and assorted religious paraphernalia, that several long hours meditating on one’s choices can be spent here by the devoutly religious or the interested athiest. 831 Sixth Avenue, San Diego. 239-1249. Open 9:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. except Sundays.
A second fascinating specialty book store. The Women’s Store, is, contrary to rumor, open to patrons of both sexes. The small, inviting store is completely managed and staffed by volunteer women who offer coffee and tea to all browsers. On the Monday evening I visited the store, a women’s rap group was meeting in the rear of the store.
Books are. arranged in several nicely organized sections: women in history, poetry, fiction, third world women, alternative life styles, women in politics, and autobiographies. A variety of cookbooks, health care books and non-sexist children’s books are also stocked.
"All profits from the store are used for women’s movement projects. 4157 Adams Avenue, in Kensington (San Diego), 281-4181. Open Monday, Tuesday, and Friday from 12:00 noon to 9:00 p.m, and varying hours on other days of the week.
Nearby on Adams Avenue is another specialty book store, Isis Books, named, according to the soft-spoken, bearded owner, after Isis, the Egyptian goddess of creation and “the Mother of All.” The store specializes in books about eastern and western religions, astrology, “metaphysics” and mythology. Most volumes are used and hardcovered. There is also an ample collection of new paperbacks. The small store is pleasant to browse through: plants, driftwood, and drawings among the books. Soft classical music playing enhances the peaceful atmosphere of Isis, but the owner says much of his business now is by mail order for out-of-towners. Isis offers a large collection of books on theosophy, astrology, and ancient eastern philosophies, as well as several reasonably priced used books on art and artists.
Incense and interesting art cards are for sale, and the owners encourage .selling or trading books to their shop. 4059 Adams Avenue, San Diego. 280-4670. Open Monday through Saturday, 11:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.
Close to the ocean, and full of beautiful books and treasures, is the Earth-Song Book Store, an out-
let for the art work and crafts of local craftsmen. Batiks, stained-glass, ceramics, and macrame are displayed along with a varied selection of books. Earth-Song has well-stocked philosophy, poetry, and ecology sections. Upstairs is a wonderland for children, a room filled solely with children’s books and toys. All the books are selected by the owners, who say they are trying to stay away from “computerized” book buying.
Most community colleges and local universities have their own book stores, but two university stores offer the most comprehensive stock of texts and technical books. The University of California, San Diego Book Store doesn’t encourage browsing. The noise and the bright fluorescent lighting make it a place to visit only when you know the certain book you want to buy. Most of the books are paperbacks, with a huge selection of books on the popular university courses, i.e., psychology, sociology, education, art, philosophy. The best sellers and new books are here, and you can also find notebooks, sweat shirts, and toiletries. It is an excellent university book store, but is not a place to loiter, unless you wait until the text book buying rush is over. Matthews Campus. UCSD. 453-2000, extension 1360.
The largest local university book store is San Diego State’s Aztec Bookshop, Ltd. The shop is huge and bustling and very much like a busy department store. The second floor is jammed with text books, all shelved alphabetically by author. The main floor boasts a massive number of books on hundreds of subjects from art history to macrame to zen. all lined up in shelves under red-lettered signs.
The check-out lines are long at the start of the semester, but after the initial rush on books, the store is very pleasant to wander through. There is a section of gift books by Gibran, Thoreau. and many other poets and authors. A large collection of greeting cards, posters, and stationery make it a good place to pick up a gift after you find your test books. There are always books on sale, the bestsellers can be found here, and browsers hang around the well-stocked magazine rack for hours.
The book stores frequented most by the average shopper are those located in shopping malls.
Pickwick Shops are the largest shopping center book stores around. There are rarely less than fifty browsers wandering among the hundreds of thousands of books covering every subject. (Part of the bigness is illusory, though, because of the large overstock kept on the shelves.) The books are neatly stacked and set up in well-defined sections. Browsing is a pleasure if you don't mind the noise and bright lights. Pickwick salespeople are a challenge to track down, making unbothered browsing easy.
All the best sellers are here first in San Diego. Tables at the front of the store offer excellent bargains for a huge variety of books. Hardcover books full of photographs of dogs, flowers, antiques, coins, cars, and recipes seem to always be on sale, making great gifts. Mission Valley Center in San Diego and Plaza Camino Real in Carlsbad. Open from 10:00 a.m. weekdays and shorter hours on the weekends.
Several other chain book stores can be found in shopping plazas. One of the smaller, but well-stocked general interest book stores is the Walden Book Store.
Walden Book Stores have been on the east coast for fifty years, but in California for only the past three. The stores are spacious and orderly, with the newest books and best sellers in stock. A handy, “New in Paperback” section allows the customer to see at a glance if a favorite hardcover book is down to his price level. Walden is a fine place to browse through if your only contact with book stores occurs with a visit to a shopping mall. College Grove Center in El Cajon, and Parkway Plaza Center.
Hunter's Books, in Grossmont Center is a disappointing, cluttered shop. Christmas cards were on sale, for half price, and the greeting card section filled the rear of the store. Hunter's Books seemed more like a card shop that sells books. The books were leaning on their shelves, the sales people seemed distracted, and slacks of books covered the check-out counter the day I visited. Most of the books are paperbacks, with the usual array of glossy, gift books on sale. Other than the welcome “No Smoking” sign on the door. Hunter's Books does not offer the most pleasant browsing atmosphere. But, it does supply a large number of current fiction, and philosophy for the shopping mall book shopper. Grossmont.Center in La Mesa and 7505 Girard Avenue in La Jolla.