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A different kind of ending

July 19, 2002

Mary A. Castillo

Inside Different Drummer Books the shelves are no longer crammed

with books. After co-owner Rob Merrell announced that the 15-year-old

bookstore will be closing its doors at the end of this month, loyal

customers have walked in to say goodbye and then left with discounted

merchandise.

"What I really loved about this store was meeting the most

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wonderful people in the world," said Merrell, 47. "Many of my

customers became friends and that will be one of the best things I'll

walk away with."

The book store began losing ground shortly following Sept. 11,

Merrell said, and the situation grew worse as the economy slumped

under the weight of corporate scandals and massive lay offs. The

bookstore will close on July 31.

"We just couldn't recover from the loss to even take advantage of

the summer season," Merrell said.

Even though Different Drummer was the only gay and lesbian

bookstore between West Hollywood and San Diego, ironically Merrell

felt its location hindered its success.

"The gay dynamic in Laguna is changing," he said. "Average-income

people can't afford to live here and the gay community is settling on

the periphery of Laguna."

Relying on out-of-town business, Merrell described the city as an

island with one main artery (Coast Highway) linking it to the rest of

Orange County. But the obstacles -- heavy traffic, sparse parking and

a wounded economy -- were too much to allow for a steady influx of

customers.

"Ask any of the business owners downtown and they'll tell you that

we see a lot of people in town but they're not buying anything," he

said.

Although Merrell wanted the bookstore to continue serving the

community, his efforts to sell the business to experienced

independent booksellers fell short.

"They showed a fear of coming into the Laguna market," he said.

"They already lived on a narrow margin of income and couldn't afford

the risk."

Ten years ago, independent bookstores began falling prey to a

market that favored big chain stores, such as Barnes and Noble and

Borders, that were located in shopping districts. Powered with

advertising dollars and clout with publishers, the mega giants took a

blow when the American Booksellers Assn. settled a seven-year lawsuit

over illegal business practices that gave kick backs from the book

chains to publishers. But by that the time the damage had been done,

said Tom Ahern, owner of Latitude 33 books.

"Laguna once had seven bookstores," he explained in the back

office crammed with over-stock and supplies. With each store,

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