Arvida Book Co., an independently-owned bookstore located in Old Town Tustin, opened its doors at the beginning of October. Featuring a number of works by local artists and authors as well as an outdoor patio, the bookstore not only sells merchandise but also doubles as a communal and creative space.
The bookstore has always been a dream of Sam Robertson, who named the store in homage to her grandfather, a successful entrepreneur who strove to build his business in South America so he could one day move to the U.S.
Robertson has always admired the power of books, seeking out local bookstores during her travels and admiring the spaces.
“There are no used bookstores in Orange County,” Robertson said, who is trying to alter that trend. “Having a used bookstore and buying a used book that’s more affordable makes the ideas we want to share more accessible to a broader range of people. We want to share those ideas that are important to our neighborhood and our community.”
The response to Arvida’s opening has been overwhelmingly positive.
Sheena Kirkbride, a freelance translator and mother of two, visits the bookstore whenever she has the opportunity: “It’s very cozy and it has a lot of personality. You can feel the warmth of the owners when you walk in. You feel like you’re in this separate world where you’re getting a big hug from books.”
Armed with antique cloth and leather couches complemented by a number of potted succulents, with paintings by local artists lining the walls, Arvida serves as an intimate gathering place for booklovers, art enthusiasts and socialites of all types.
“It has been a great way of giving back to our community and it has given us so much in return by just being a presence there. It’s a really dynamic place. It’s so pleasurable to walk in there,” Krystal Padley, a writer with five children, said. “Particularly for me, the literary community in Orange County is very underground and to be able to support this physical space, especially right now as its getting its feet on the ground, is great. A lot of local bookstores have shut down.”
According to Maria Manon, an 11th and 12th grade school teacher at Legacy College Prep, “She’s brave to do this in a COVID world, to do this with Amazon, who is so powerful and so resourced. And she has two kids. She’s a mom like I am.”
Particularly during a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has shuttered a number of small businesses, there are many challenges to face when opening a new store.
“Everyday there’s something different. The bookstore is our third child. It feels like having a newborn. We have all these worries and fears, but it’s also this immense joy. My family is super supportive and super helpful. We’re learning as we go. It’s the most gratifying thing ever,” Robertson said.
In response to the pandemic, Arvida Book Co. has limited its customer capacity, strictly enforced mask-wearing and implemented social distancing practices. In addition, the bookstore has been hosting virtual story time through Instagram Live.
“We’ve never owned a store before. So, if we can survive being born in the middle of a storm, everything else should be smooth sailing,” Robertson said.
The corporate giant Amazon, whose influence has been strengthened by the pandemic, poses another challenge beyond the COVID-19 crisis. As people were increasingly encouraged to stay home, the online shopping platform became integral in enabling consumers to purchase basic necessities or recreational items without leaving the house.
Amazon already controls most of the online shopping market, dominating online book sales in particular. The company is responsible for 72% of adult new book sales online, using tools such as Amazon First Reads and Kindle Unlimited, Amazon’s e-book subscription service, to reach an estimated 10 million customers.
“The pandemic has given Amazon this crazy leverage over everything. We’re not going down without a fight. We’re not going to play their game,” Robertson said.
Robertson stressed the importance of having a human-driven experience in her store. “I don’t need an algorithm advertising to me, I want a human suggestion. We’re not just books, we’re a community. We’re family. People recognize that need for community and they’re going to help us fight that fight. It’s really blown me away over the past few weeks, seeing that response from people.”
This response could be seen in Manon, who, even before meeting Arvida’s owner, had fostered the idea of starting a book club with a few friends. During her first visit to the store, Robertson provided Manon with a number of recommendations that contributed to the development of the reading group.
“I started a book club because I could talk to the owner. She knew books. And we even had a space where, if we wanted to meet in the future, we could meet at the bookstore to talk about it. And would that have happened if we purchased it on Amazon? No. We would’ve purchased it in isolation. We wouldn’t have had that recommendation from a bookstore owner, and then had a place to gather and talk about it. There is still a need for bookstores,” Manon said.
Along with creating a space for social gatherings, local art, and budding authors’ works, Robertson aims to impact the community by encouraging children to understand and value the power of reading.
“We have a really fun kids corner and a huge selection of used-children’s books that are twenty five cents each. It turns into an event where the neighborhood kids come in and use their allowance to buy books. There’s this girl who came in with quarters she saved up to buy the first Harry Potter book,” Robertson said. “And I was so excited for the journey she was about to embark on.”
Manon also views the bookstore as a platform through which she can pass her love for reading onto her daughter. “I think these bookstores help kids like my daughter see that there’s a space in the world for reading. Books are things that live in that space, in bookstores. I hope that she gets to experience that amazing feeling you get when you’re surrounded by books. An independently owned bookstore ― only they can achieve that.”
When describing her five childrens’ excitement upon entering Arvida, Padley said, “They always run into the kids section, grab a puzzle. They love being there. Being able to pass that onto my kids ― I realize that was so lacking.”
According to Robertson, “It’s really easy to just give a kid a phone, but it’s just as easy to give them a book. That’s my favorite thing to see: a parent picking out a book for storytime or bedtime. The greatest gift you can give your kids is to read to them.”
Additionally, Robertson is developing her Young Adult section to encourage reading among adolescents.
“There’s a lot of kids in the area that are doing the Bookstagram, which is super cute. They’re giving me suggestions on what to buy and what they like and what other kids their age would like. It’s all community driven. There are still kids who like to read and it makes me so happy,” Robertson said.
Despite being in its early stages and facing a number of challenges, Arvida Book Co. has already made a significant impact on local residents.
“There is love and courage in the space, that a family made sacrifices to create this for the community. I really think that this is not a business venture, this is more than that. These are the kinds of things that only small independent bookstores can provide: this idea that there is something much bigger than just selling a book. This is what a real bookstore looks like,” Manon said.
Alessandra Arif is a 2020-2021 City News Co-Editor. She can be reached at email@example.com.