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Owner puts Latitude 33 up for sale

He will miss the customers the most and hopes someone new will take on the challenge of an independent bookstore.

April 07, 2011|By Joanna Clay, joanna.clay@latimes.com

After 15 years on Ocean Avenue, Latitude 33 Bookshop is for sale.

Owner Tom Ahern, 69, attributed the decision to his wife's mounting health problems.

Ahern, a Newport Beach resident, bought the bookshop in 1996 — formerly the Readers Bookshop — and moved it downtown from the Collection on South Coast Highway.

"I'm hoping that someone or group of individuals will feel strongly enough that we need a good bookstore in Laguna Beach and say, 'Yes, lets buy them out,'" he said.

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As an example, he cited Politics and Prose, a bookstore in Washington, D.C., which decided to sell the bookstore instead of fold after one of the owners died.

Ahern said that independent bookstores, although they are far and few between, are important to publishers that are constantly introducing new writers.

"Barnes & Noble can't hand sell. They don't have a clue," he said. "Publishers want us to stay in business to discover new authors."

All of his employees are required to read their titles and give recommendations.

He compared the plight to the movie, "You've Got Mail." Meg Ryan plays a bookstore owner who knows every author and title in the store. She struggles as a large chain opens nearby.

"[Big chains] don't know any books; they might as well be selling cans of soup," Ahern said.

While chains have to return as much as 60% of their stock, Latitude 33 returns about 8.5%, which means it sells about 91% of its books, Ahern said.

Although the choice wasn't easy to make, the owner focuses on the memories he's made.

He remembered when there was growing tension in Laguna Beach over the day laborer area on Laguna Canyon Road and he encouraged the community to read "The Tortilla Curtain," which recounts the interactions of an immigrant family and a wealthy family similar to many in Laguna. More than 400 people came to hear the author, T.C. Boyle, speak on the issues that were also resonating in the community.

Mitch Albom, author of "Tuesdays with Morrie," spoke to patrons at a local church.

"A woman came up to me said, 'You know, I've been a member of this church for 30 years, and that is the most inspirational thing I've ever heard in this church,'" he said.

He'll miss his customers the most, he said.

Ahern referred to a quote he enjoys to sum up the new phase in his life, "A man needs to be re-potted every few years."

"I have to take care of my wife. I can't do that and manage the bookstore," he said. "It's time for me to re-pot myself."

As for his future, he plans to stay connected to the community and volunteer at Newport Beach Public Library.

For more information, call (949) 494-5403 or visit the shop at 311 Ocean Ave.

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