In an era when giant bookstore chains like Borders have faded into memory, and others like Barnes & Noble keep losing locations, only the strongest and most innovative booksellers can survive. As it celebrates its 120th anniversary this week, Pasadena’s own independent Vroman’s Bookstore has proven it has what it takes to not only survive but thrive.
With author signings nearly every night of the year, the literary institution is always ready to show just how invaluable it is to writers of all stripes. But at 11 a.m. Saturday, Vroman’s will take their love of letters to a whole other level by debuting the Vroman’s Bookstore Walk of Fame, with a handprint and signing ceremony for local author Lisa See — and the concrete casting performed by none other than the Grauman’s Chinese Theater’s very own cement artist Sassan Shakoori.
“It was inspired by Grauman’s Chinese Theatre and the desire to celebrate and honor authors who we hold in high esteem,” says Jennifer Ramos, promotional director for Vroman’s and its esteemed sister store Book Soup in Los Angeles. “And we wanted to celebrate our milestone anniversary by creating a landmark for the Pasadena community, something permanent that can be enjoyed for years to come. As far as we know, we’re the first bookstore in the country to have an author Walk of Fame.”
Ramos noted that See was chosen as the first honoree for the Walk — which will be located on the walkway between the west side of the store and the Laemmle Playhouse 7 movie theater next door — because of her local connections and frequent appearances at the store. See has also gone the extra mile for Vroman’s by leading walking tours in Chinatown for customers and book chats with her mom, Carolyn See, for the store’s reading groups. While Ramos says the store hasn’t settled on future honorees, the goal will be “to first focus on local authors and or authors that really represent Southern California well, but we are looking forward to seeing how the Walk of Fame evolves over the years.”
Saturday’s ceremony caps a busy week at the store, with Vroman’s Chair Joel Sheldon and CEO/President Allison Hill already having presented a talk on the store’s history from 1894 to the present on Tuesday night. And at 6:30 p.m. Friday, Vroman’s is welcoming local authors Naomi Hirahara, Michelle Huneven, Mark Salzman, Jervey Tervalon, Denise Hamilton, and Luis Rodriguez for a group event during which they each will read from an original short story of their own.
For her part, See is understandably delighted to be honored. Born in Paris but a longtime resident of Los Angeles and in particular the city’s Chinatown area, she was the West Coast correspondent for Publishers Weekly from 1986 to 1996.
In addition to her novels, including “Dreams of Joy” and “Shanghai Girls,” See has written articles for Vogue, Self and other magazines. She has written about and led many cultural events emphasizing the importance of Los Angeles and Chinatown. Among her awards and recognitions are the Organization of Chinese Americans Women’s 2001 award as National Woman of the Year and the 2003 History Makers Award presented by the Chinese American Museum.
“I’m hugely honored, of course, but I also think this is really fun,” says See. “I love to think that one day there will be many handprints and signatures on the Author Walk of Fame, but I’ll always be the first! Vroman’s will be commemorating over time, many wonderful authors and the permanence of the walk speaks to the bookstore’s longevity, but also its importance not just in the community, but in the world of independent bookstores across the country.”
See notes that while she doesn’t live in Pasadena herself, she has had strong family ties to the Crown City for decades. Her great-grandfather had a store called the F. Suie One Company “on and off in Pasadena since around 1910,” before it settled permanently in Pasadena on Colorado Boulevard in the early 1980s, and she muses that her family’s patriarch might have crossed paths with an earlier generation of the Vroman family at some point in the past.
“I did my very first book signing at Vromans for ‘On Gold Mountain,’ and my entire family and so many friends were there,” See recalls. “I feel that Vroman’s gave me my launch and I now have a big party there for each of my books. My connection to the store is so close and personal that I wrote about it in ‘My Bookstore,’ a collection of essays by writers about their favorite bookstores. All that is unique to me, but what truly makes Vroman’s special is the depth and variety of books they stock, the wonderful, talented and knowledgeable people who work there, and the place that it serves Pasadena and beyond as a cultural center.”
While words like those are music to Ramos’ ears, she has her own theory about why the store has lasted so long. It’s likely that the same ideas are what will guide the store into surviving for at least 120 more years.
“The trick has been staying true to our core values — community, customer service, a passion for books,” says Ramos. “While constantly evolving at the same time by selling e-readers and tech accessories; selling vinyl; opening spaces at LAX and buying Book Soup, and more.”
The inaugural Author Walk of Fame ceremony featuring author Lisa See is scheduled for 11 a.m. Saturday at Vroman’s Bookstore, 695 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena. Call (626) 449-5320 or visit vromans.com.