‘We Feature Courteous and Efficient Self-Service” was just one of the hundreds of banners that hung over the doors of the Los Osos Book Exchange during the past four decades. The most recent banner simply states, “Dat’s All Folks!” because by the end of this month, the Book Exchange will be no more.
Whether you ever bought a book there (or even a tube of corndog-flavored lip balm), we’ll all be a little diminished by its passing because, as another banner noted, the Los Osos Book Exchange has been “a farce to be reckoned with.”
The store, which was the brainchild of George Kastner who opened its doors at 2149 10th St. in the early ’80s, has been under the principal ownership of Joan Campbell since June 4, 2004. So closing a chapter in one of the loves of her life is understandably one of the most difficult things she’s had to endure. Yet, in many ways it was inevitable.
Joan moved to Los Osos in 1971. Her home was a tiny cottage that was probably built shortly after Baywood Park was subdivided. Her then-husband, George Campbell, at one time put food on their table by hunting back-bay sharks with a bow and tethered arrows.
From such beginnings, George would later become an internationally recognized authority in computers as a contributing editor to PC World and Compute! magazines and as owner of OsosSoft, a shareware software company.
In those days, Joan was a writer who published her work in various publications such as the Los Angeles Times. She also worked as the secretary to the Cuesta College Art Department during the halcyon days of such instructor/artists as Bob Pelfrey and Chet Amyx before working Sundays at the Book Exchange for Kastner (and Peaches the shop cat) in 1987. After a bout with cancer in ’90, Kastner added a couple more days to her schedule, which was good. What was bad was that her illness left her without the desire to write.
So, over the years, they sold books — many of which were collector’s items and couldn’t be found elsewhere — and, of course, hung their wry and ironic banners, all created by artist Rudy Raidl.
Some of the banners were rebus puzzles that would cause pedestrians and drivers to stop to figure out what a hand holding a book/equal sign/bush with a tuna fish in it actually meant (“A book in the hand is worth two in the bush”). Others were self-deprecating pies in their faces, such as “Don’t be cheated somewhere else! Shop here instead” or “Our Banners: Completely dry, yet always a little tacky.”
Joan, one of those people whose eyes simply refuse to quit dancing, continued hanging new Raidl-painted banners with their lighthearted and whimsical messages after she, partner Pody Anderson and Sweetie Pie — successor to Peaches after she passed on — took over the store eight years ago.
Unfortunately, the timing for buying a bookstore wasn’t the best.
It’s no secret these institutions have taken a hit during the past decade, losing their cachet as cultural touchstones such as iPads, Kindles and Nook readers have become nearly ubiquitous with generations raised on computers, not paper. (The irony of her ex-husband having helped usher in computers and hastening the demise of paper books isn’t lost on Joan.)
Nonetheless, she rolled with the economic punches, rearranging the store to accommodate youngsters who wanted to come in, read and hang with friends in what many patrons describe as a safe haven in an increasingly strident world.
Of course the recession didn’t help, so she opened used book outlets in Cambria’s Antiques on Main and the Antique Mall in the former Miner’s Hardware store on Highway 41 in Morro Bay. Pretty soon, those outlets were subsidizing the Book Exchange. When that revenue stream began to dry up, she started selling books online through Amazon — and those dollars, too, went into the Los Osos store.
Whereas Kastner was a purist of sorts when it came to just stocking books, Joan began to sell “product” like the aforementioned corndog-flavored lip balm and a host of other assorted tschotskes (which, including all of her books, will all be greatly marked down as the store slowly liquidates its assets through August).
In the end, though, like Sisyphus and his uphill boulder battle, Joan knew it was time to call it a day. The tipping point came when the last of the youngsters who used to spend summer days reading in the store came in wanting to sell his books to be able to buy a Nook. Like the final chapters of once-iconic buggy whips, black and white TVs and Sunday drives, bookstores are joining the casualties of our constantly changing culture.
Yet, true to her wry view of life, Joan says with a wistful smile and a wave to the stacks: “At least we won’t be spending all of these trees on Danielle Steele novels.”
So, goodbye Los Osos Book Exchange, may you rest in peace and know of the joy you brought to tens of thousands. All the best Joan, Pody and Sweetie Pie. We won’t see your style come this way again because after Aug. 31, the store will finally live up to one of its banners: “Now! Under No Management.”
Bill Morem can be reached at email@example.com or at 781-7852.