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
"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
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
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,