Sean Christopher says his Lhooq (pronounced “look”) Books in Carlsbad is one of only about seven independent book stores left in the county.
“I have the final hand-typed draft of the Pulp Fiction screenplay with Quentin Tarantino’s handwritten notes. I have a very rare leatherette of Edgar Allen Poe, a hard-cover of Catcher in the Rye and an original printing of Abby Hoffman’s Steal This Book." Christopher says he has over 50,000 new and used books for sale.
His funky, old-timey store housed in a small barn built in 1941 is quite a contrast to the massive new multi-story development enveloping downtown Carlsbad.
755 1/2 Carlsbad Village Dr., Carlsbad
Hidden San Diego said of Lhooq Books: “A hidden gem, the best bookstore in all of San Diego by far.”
Christopher, writer/former college adjunct professor and K-12 teacher, transformed his bookstore and its adjoining patio into a cultural showcase that regularly hosts lectures, readings, political symposiums, and live music events. “I’ve had a Cambridge professor give a live lecture on our screen, beamed in from Cambridge.”
Market forces have felled such legendary San Diego County independent bookstores as Adams Avenue Books, 5th Avenue Books, and 50,000 Books. But Christopher, 45, says Lhooq Books is being abruptly killed off with no notice, no explanation and, in his mind, an outrageous show of disloyalty and unkindness.
“I was never once late in my rent,” says Christopher, a fourth-generation Carlsbad local who opened the store 12 years ago. “I put myself through grad school as a finish carpenter, so I was able to completely fix this place up. It was nearly condemned when I got here. The roof was leaking and caving in. I put in a new wood floor. The house next door was unlivable I fixed them both up on my own time and on my own dime.”
Christopher lives in the adjacent house with his 10-year-old son. He says the longtime owner of the property, Gene Siegel, was happy with his initiative and quality of the improvements. “This was Mr. Siegel's first investment property. He went on to buy like something like 30 other properties. But he was so happy with me he gave me a first offer to buy this place if he should he ever sell it. He gave me his word I would never be asked to leave as long as I paid my rent on time.”
Christopher discovered his most recent written lease had expired in January. “I asked the property manager where my 2019 and beyond lease was, and they told me it was on the way. There had been delays like this before because of property manager changes or whatever. There was no reason for concern at the time.”
Christopher was secure that the good will built up over years with Siegel would surely not lead to any surprises. He was wrong.
On September 16 he was served with a notice to vacate both the house and the bookstore in 60 days.
“I told them immediately there’s no possible way because I already had tickets to be in Europe dealing with my wife who was getting processed for her naturalization, and if I didn’t go then, it could jeopardize years of process. They told me they would send me legal documents and that if I signed them I could stay until January. But even with that, I could not find a new place for the store and a new house in such short a time. By the way, I never got those legal documents.”
Christopher says he knew the increasing upscaling of Carlsbad’s Village area would likely cost him his home and his store eventually. “My goal was to recoup my expenses, build my brand, and relocate in two to five years if I had to. Now they are telling me I have to move my home and my business of over a decade in a month.”
The problem, says Christopher is that Siegel, now in his 90s, has passed control of his properties over to his son Ben Siegel (who happens to be the city manager of San Juan Capistrano). Not only did Christopher say he never met the son, he was told by the property manger never to speak to him directly.
Attempts to speak with Ben Siegel for this article were not successful.
“I’ve been going in there since it opened,” says Janelle Cannon, Carlsbad author/illustrator of children’s picture books. “He went through all the struggles with the city of Carlsbad to get all his permits…His store is so unusual compared to the gentrification of the rest of the Village which is becoming so formulaic. It reminds me of a store you might discover walking the streets of San Francisco. It’s so free-form and full of character. I can never walk in there without buying something.”
Cannon says the EvrBottle gift shop and Village Rock Shop are one of the only other remaining shops that retain the spirit of old Carlsbad. “If that bookstore goes away, I won’t have much of a reason to go into downtown Carlsbad.”
“I’m a lover of books,” says Ginny Unanue who was raised in Carlsbad and taught school in Carlsbad for 38 years. Christopher was one of her students. “Any bookstore is a big positive to a city. It’s very important. I think this is unfair. This young man paid for all the upgrades, he’s been a great tenant. I think they ought to give him at least six months.”
Christopher says the snuffing out of his store would dislocate himself and his son from their home and three Lhooq Book employees/interns.
Justin Jachura owns Senior Grubby’s, a restaurant four blocks west of Lhooq Books on Carlsbad Village Drive. “It’s a sad situation and it’s not even clear why he’s being evicted. He’s made a name for himself, and he provides a service to a lot of people. I think it would be a courtesy to him to allow him time to find a new place to move his business.”
Christopher has launched a gofundme campaign to help negotiate possible legal action and/or help cover relocation costs. “I would hate to liquidate my business for pennies on the dollar. You can only carry 30 books at a time and with the rare books you have to use white gloves and wrap them. It’s a time consuming process. You can’t just put a first-edition, first-printing of Kerouac ’s On The Road in a box for movers.”