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The Last Bookstore continues to turn the page

In the heart of downtown L.A. stands The Last Bookstore, a book and record store that’s only “last” in name. Come with us as we discover this bookstore’s unique magic.

Photo of a bookstore with large white pillars and shelves of books

That’s the sound of me flipping through hard-cover books at The Last Bookstore in Los Angeles. It’s not really the last, but that’s the name of California’s largest new and used bookstore, located in downtown LA.

General Manager Joe Cascro expands on the irony of their name.

Joe Cascro: Here’s a joke behind the name, but I think everyone has their own little spin on it. Mine is always if you’re going towards Skid Row, it’s the last bookstore. But if you’re coming back from Skid Row area, it’s the first bookstore.

Walking in, you’re greeted by Richard Powell, security guard and book fanatic. He’s worked here since 2015. He can tell you stories of floating books and mysterious sounds after closing that remain in this century-old refurbished bank.

Books cover the walls like ivy, with shelves spanning the whole floor. The bank’s original coffered ceilings hang above the first level, which houses some of the most approachable sections and genres, like Children’s and Nutrition. As you move upstairs, you’ll be presented with the entrance to the labyrinth. Housing horror, crime, fiction, and sci-fi, walking through the spiral shelving and the fantastical displays, you can’t help but feel compelled to pick up a book and get started.

I asked the staff what they think makes the store so special.

Head manager Adrian Prospero talks about what can be discovered throughout the store.

Adrian Prospero: But if you want to wander around, wander around, sorry. And spend the time and look for little hidden gems and little things you would never read. That’s what makes it special. It’s like these little hidden books that are on the shelf that you don’t know about or you haven’t seen.

Book clerk Matthew Corey points out the sheer collection of literature at the Last Bookstore.

Matthew Corey: It’s just so comprehensive. They have so many books. I mean, I don’t know if it’s the biggest store in the world, but it’s definitely, at least nowadays is probably one of the most well known and most, you know, comprehensive. They just carry every section and every category, and they’re amazing.

For their expert opinion, I asked the staff for their favorite books, for the one book that made them fall in love with reading, one they wish they could read for the first time again:

Lyla Bhalla-Ladd: Could you take me to a book that you wish you could read again for the first time?

Prospero starts off with a gripping and unsettling dystopia.

Prospero : I don’t know if it’s out, but it’s a book called “The Shimmering State.” And it’s just it’s probably a year old by a writer in New York. It felt very unpredictable. It felt very modern and relevant today. It’s basically about two people in a rehab center. But it’s for a new drug that allows you to take other people’s memories. And it’s very, it’s very relevant to the issues that’s going on today. And it tells you two perspectives, two points of views. Yeah, I just I really enjoyed it. I always recommend it.”

Provonost talks about a story that reunites a failing salesman and a monarch.

Tim Provonost: One of my favorite modern books of all time is “Hologram for a King” by Dave Eggers. And I wish I could read it again because it’s a beautiful story about kind of being in a endless loop and trying to get out of an endless loop. And it’s just so beautifully written that every time I reread it, I find new stuff. But man, just to reread it for the first time would be amazing.

And Corey returns to childhood with a universal classic.

Corey: Well, you know, when I was a little kid, I read “The Wizard of Oz,” and that’s probably--it’s probably over here in the children’s section. It’s a real fantasy. I mean, probably you’ve seen the film. It’s just got all these kind of crazy characters. It also has, like, I don’t know, just morals to it or something. It’s got a beginning, middle and end, which takes you on a journey. And I like that idea of just the kind of the innocence of it, I guess, is what I like.

Whether it be in the form of modern fiction, children’s classics or dystopia, the staff embodies the essence of The Last Bookstore, a space where the imagination comes to life.

From Annenberg Media, I’m Lyla Bhalla-Ladd.