Sometimes, especially when we find ourselves far from home, we tend to forget about those things and places closest to us. We’re not immune from this tendency as we explore new places in our travels and become smitten by the previously unexplored. This past weekend, however, we had the opportunity to reconnect with an old familiar haunt and it was just as good in the present as it was in our memory.
The ranks of good used bookstores is going down the same path as many traditional repair shops; namely, that they are fast disappearing from the scene as their proprietors reach retirement age without a ready replacement on hand. One exception is The Bookman in Orange, California. Less than 10 years ago there were dozens of used bookstores in the area that specialized in a complete selection of topics of interest to the general reader. Today, there are less than a handful and none in Orange and Los Angeles Counties can match the million or so books in stock at this 8500 square foot gem located close to the historic downtown Orange. The store is well regarded by all – it has won Best Used Bookstore honors from the Orange County Register since the award was implemented – and its patrons are a loyal and enthusiastic group.
For as long as I can remember, my local Triumph Club (the combined membership of the Triumph Register of Southern California and the Southern California Triumph Owners Association) has met on the second Saturday of every month for breakfast at the famed Watson’s Drugstore on the Orange Circle. During that time, a ritual after breakfast has been to head over to The Bookman to see the latest offerings in stock.
The current owners, Paul Bonaventure and David Hess (an original owner of the store from the beginning), assumed the reigns after Paul’s father retired from running the shop that he founded in 1990. Paul started in the stacks at 16 doing odd jobs and has literally grown up in the store. Although The Bookman is a generalist bookstore for the everyday book enthusiast, the selections in certain areas stand out. Except for Autobooks Aerobooks in Burbank (one of our all-time favorites), The Bookman has the largest selection in Southern California of automotive, aviation, nautical and military history volumes (subjects that are important to us for obvious reasons). Due to the store’s proximity to the several thousand aerospace workers that once populated the area, there are thousands of great aviation and military books on varied topics and all affordably priced.
The automotive section sells its stock as soon as it comes in so it invites regular visits to avoid missing out on the special books that come through the door. Although Paul attributes much of the store’s continued success on having embraced the internet early, he takes care of the locals by ensuring that all stock is offered exclusively in the store before it is placed for sale online. This policy engenders loyalty among the customers and provides an incentive to come in and look around.
Many times, having gone looking for something specific, I’ll walk out instead with a dozen titles I had never even heard of and my most recent trip was no exception. An Alfa Romeo history that I had never seen before was a cherished find and a copy of Chris Harvey’s Triumph TRs is always welcome on the shelf. Thankfully, The Bookman is a true used bookstore rather than an antiquarian shop (think of it as the Aaron Copland of used books) so the prices are always reasonable, particularly given the rarity of certain books on the shelves.
In addition to the aforementioned subjects, the other subject areas are equally well stocked and it’s always nice to find a dedicated section to the Beat writers and on each of the major and minor sports. It’s sometimes hard to let others in on a cherished secret (it creates competition for the good books), but sometimes altruism trumps personal considerations and in this case anyone in the area should swing by on a regular basis. A 56 Chevy Bel Air (owned by Paul) is often parked in the lot in front of the store and the parking is ample (the store is located in a typical Southern California strip mall) and browsing is encouraged. Next time you find yourself in Orange County, head over to see Paul and talk about his favorite books (he was a Philosophy and Engineering major in college) and love for the surrounding area. It’s a trip you won’t regret.
840 N. Tustin Street
Orange, California 92867