“Nobody walks in L.A.” Missing Persons informed us in their 1982 hit song Walking in L.A. but, as I recently discovered they still do – in San Diego. While like L.A. there are sprawling freeways, sometimes with more lanes than an octopus has legs, often times the individual neighborhoods these freeways connect are still small, intimate, and highly walk-able. Everywhere we went, from residential neighborhoods and beaches, to historic sites and parks, and everything in between, we saw people walking, and not just as a form of exercise, but also as a form of transportation. Coming from an area where there are no sidewalks, your nearest neighbor can be upwards of a mile down the highway, and where logging trucks routinely rumble along said highways at upwards of 50 miles per hour, the concept of being able to stroll around the neighborhood after dinner, or even to walk to a local neighborhood restaurant or bar (where everyone knows your name), harbored images and notions of a romantic, and probably rose-tinted, bygone era that I have fantasized about in books and films since I was a child.
Walking along Adams Avenue, through the Kensington and Normal Heights neighborhoods of San Diego, it was easy to feed these fantasies. Dozens of small independent restaurants, bars, cafes and stores line the street, interspersed with parks full of children and the occasional appearance of a larger (more modern) corporate chain store. The slower pace invites you to investigate, savor, and even linger over the sights and smells of the avenue. Once, just 20 years ago, there were as many as 11 bookstores along this stretch of road and people would come and spend the day browsing (and hopefully buying) books, but today only one remains: Adams Avenue Book Store.
Adams Avenue Book Store is a place worthy of my rose-tinted fantasies. Nestled into a beautifully restored, two-story home that turns 100 this year, there are over 60,000 volumes of used and out of print books just waiting to be discovered. It is a place where the dying art of the window display is still practiced; successfully I might add, as I bought 2 of the volumes that were on display the day I visited.
Inside the store, every wall of every room, including the stairwell and the hallways, are lined floor to almost ceiling with bookshelves. The kind of bookshelves you only ever find in used bookstores: old, handmade, wooden shelves darkened with the patina that time and hundreds, if not thousands, of hands can produce. Along with these requisite shelves, and the entirely expected teetering stacks of old books, there are also two permanent residents in the store. No it’s not the owners; it is two very mellow and well-fed cats, a discovery we only made when we stumbled upon them upstairs lazing about in the theology section.
As we continued wandering around the store, discovering its treasures and its secrets, we also learned that the owners have quite a sense of humor. The cookbook section is tucked into what used to be the home’s kitchen; the original sink and tiled countertops are still there, almost tempting you try out the recipes surrounding you.
By the time we, my family and I, had finished combing through all the nooks and crannies of this labyrinth of tomes, the only thing I can say we found ostensibly missing was dust. The store is immaculately clean, so clean that we had been there for well over an hour before we discovered the feline residents, and I say that as the mother of a child who is quite allergic to cats. Impressive, very impressive.
Specializing, in theology, Biblical studies and church history, Philosophy, History, Literature and Poetry, and Children’s Books, Adams Avenue Book Store may not be the best place to pick up the latest best seller, but it is an excellent place to spend an afternoon. I would say this was especially true if you are the kind of person who just likes to explore. All of the store’s twists and turns draw you in and encourage you to wander into sections you may not usually seek out, and if the assistance we received the day we went was anything to go on, self discovery seemed to be more encouraged than was asking questions. A surprise, but certainly not a deterrent, as we still managed to buy more books than our aching feet were willing to accommodate on the walk home.