Eat. Sleep. Read. Local. For years these edicts have presented themselves in the form of a bold red-and-white poster gracing the entryway of Mysterious Galaxy, an independent bookshop specializing in science fiction, mystery, fantasy, and suspense fiction.
5943 Balboa Avenue #100, Clairemont
The store celebrated its 24th year in business a few months ago, and on a Tuesday afternoon in mid-August cofounder and events manager Maryelizabeth Yturralde is making her weekly rounds. Her shop T-shirt repeats the imperatives advertised at the front door, shocks of pink and purple reminiscent of the brightly painted walls (which also feature a healthy dose of lime green) highlight her cropped blond hair.
In an unfinished back room occupied largely by stacks of books and interlocking chairs with memorabilia and office apparatus, Yturralde commandeers the desk of one of her employees and sits to share the tale of her decades-long foray into the book business.
"My book experience dates back to volunteer work I did at the local library in the small Oregon town where I grew up," Yturralde begins. " When I moved to Southern California I worked on and off at B. Dalton back when they ran those 'I'm Books Dalton!' ads, before it became part of the bigger Barnes & Noble corporation."
It was there that she met the cofounder of Mysterious Galaxy.
"My business partner and I kind of have this 'meet cute' story. I was working at the no-longer-existing B. Dalton at Black Mountain Village and Terry Gilman came in once a week because she had a standing date with her kids to get frozen yogurt, and she'd always pick up a book there. I got to know her as a customer while she was working a desktop-publishing job."
When the opportunity to open a store that catered to their particular tastes arose in 1993, the pair, along with third partner Jeff Mariotte, jumped on the chance.
"I actually wanted to name the store 'Martians, Murder, Magic and Mayhem' — Terry and I share a fondness for alliteration, but the initial staff basically told us there was no way they were saying all that every time they picked up the phone," Yturralde says.
The tagline nevertheless appears as subtext to the store's official name on most of its logo manifestations.
After years of facing down challenges to the community bookshop model, Yturralde is hesitant to declare a state of emergency for the industry, as other shops closing locally have done.
"I don't want to make light of the fact that there are a lot of challenges [in being a small bookseller], but I would like to point out that over the last several years more independent bookstores have opened than closed. The dialogue isn't necessarily keeping up with reality.
"First, we were all supposed to be scared of the discount stores like Crown Books," Yturralde continues. "Then it was the superstores — the Bookstars and Barnes & Nobles. There's always been somebody doing something of concern when you're an independent. Maybe it's just the fact that books are available everywhere — big-box retailers or your local gas station."
The numbers bear out her assertions — according to the American Booksellers Association, a trade group for independent shops, membership has grown consistently, with the number of member stores rising from 1651 in 2009 to 2321 this year.
Yturralde doesn't mince words when it comes to the influence of Amazon.
"They're a giant, horrible internet bully," she declares. "They don't want to be your bookseller; they came into the market and were able to leverage their position with books as a loss leader into becoming a much broader purveyor of content. They want to be your everything, to make it easy and effortless to make them the resource for all of your purchases.
"I think one disservice is the portrayal of 'mom and pop' booksellers versus Amazon. A giant internet bully retailer is of concern to everyone, to brick-and-mortar retailers of all stripes."
Still, despite heavy marketing of the company's Kindle e-reader, print remains the preferred medium for most readers to get their books, and Yturralde believes that the role independents play in connecting authors with readers is a large part of their vitality.
"As far as our curatorial role, we retain tremendous influence. It's hard for people to remember, but we made Dan Brown [author of The Da Vinci Code]. Here was a guy with an okay track record — this was something like his third publication, but Da Vinci was a number-one indie pick because independent booksellers were excited about it. It became a very popular item you could find anywhere and everywhere, but we were behind it early on," she continues. "I think the distinction of having a curated section and being able to interact with members of the community who love the genres that we're passionate about has definitely stood us in good stead."
The latest incarnation of the Galaxy, tucked into a strip mall on Balboa Avenue behind a See's candy shop, is the fourth and, Yturralde hopes, the last.
"When we moved here in the end of 2014 it was on a Saturday — we started leaving our previous location at 8 a.m., and we had an author event in-store at two o'clock.
"We started out in Clairemont Square, but after a couple years they literally knocked our building down. After that we relocated to Convoy Street by the Pancake House, where we were very happy. But, for the second time in my bookselling experience, a fish shop opened up next to me. While fresh fish is delightful, the smell of the ice that they pack it in and empty out each day is not. So we moved to Clairemont Mesa Boulevard, where we stayed for 14 years until we outgrew our space there."
The current space is twice as large as the last and employs ten people, many of whom have been around for years.