Saturday, January 11, 2020

1985 newsletter for "A Change of Hobbit" bookstore

Here's a nifty relic. Pictured are the front and back of the April 1985 newsletter for A Change of Hobbit, a wonderfully named bookstore in Santa Monica, California. It existed from 1972 to 1991 and moved around to a few different locations. Wikipedia notes that it was one of the first of the subset of science fiction/fantasy/horror bookstores that sprouted in the wake of the popularity of J.R.R. Tolkien's books. Hence the bookstore's name.

A Change of Hobbit served as the epicenter for a lot of fantasy/scifi fandom in southern California. This newsletter promotes upcoming "autograph parties" for authors Frank Herbert (who died less than a year later) and Terry Brooks. The reverse side features list of May's releases, which included Barry Hughart's Bridge of Birds and Terry Pratchett's The Colour of Magic (U.S. paperback edition, I believe).

Author Sherry Gottlieb was the bookstore's owner, and she has written a very partial history of the store on her website.1 It's just seven printed pages, and it's prefaced with "This memoir of her bookstore by Sherry Gottlieb was once a work in progress, but she lost interest before completion." It's still an interesting read, and it would be wonderful if she changed her mind and completed it some day. Here are some excerpts that focus on the business aspects of starting and runnning a bookstore ⁠— a topic that has always intrigued me:

  • "I thought the first thing to do would be find out how to get inventory, so I sat down in front of our bookcase at home and copied down the names and addresses of all the paperback publishers. I wrote each of them a letter saying that I was planning to open a bookstore and how would I get their books to carry."
  • "One guy told me to leave the books in boxes sitting on the floor of my bookstore ('People think they’ll find treasures in boxes of books.'). I began to discover the unique and wonderful camaraderie of independent booksellers who regarded other booksellers as colleagues, not competitors. I put cards on bulletin boards around town offering to buy used paperback SF/F novels for a dime apiece, planning to sell them for half cover price, a potential profit of anywhere from 8 to 75 cents each. In a couple of weeks, I had accumulated a few thousand books and a 32-issue run of the old pulp magazine Weird Tales (which I read before selling)."
  • "It had cost me $1500 to start up A Change of Hobbit. Every time I sold a book, I’d write down the title in a receipt book with carbon paper so I’d know what to restock. My first day’s sales were $32 ⁠— nearly 75% of what I’d anticipated making in an entire month! ⁠— and the next day, I sold the set of Weird Tales pulps for $100 profit. I was thrilled. A Change of Hobbit was a success."
  • "In retrospect, one of the brightest business decisions I made was getting a telephone number which spelled out GREAT SF. Countless people over the years found my store on referral from others who didn’t quite remember the store’s name, but they all remembered the telephone number!"
  • "It won’t have escaped the notice of a savvy reader that the costs of running the bookstore were more than I’d anticipated, nor that the income was insufficient to cover those costs, in spite of exceeding my wildest fantasies. That summer [1973] presented an unexpected drop in sales ⁠— the commuting students at UCLA all went away for the summer; they had been the majority of my customers."

Speaking of bookstores

We learned this week of the death of Rush drummer/lyricist Neil Peart. Here's an excerpt from a 2011 essay that Peart himself wrote about his love for fellow drummer Phil Collins:
"I find it amusing that despite not meeting 'formally', Phil and I have actually encountered each other face-to-face, unknown to him, on two occasions, almost 20 years apart. In the late '70s, I was recording with Rush in London, and one day popped into a science-fiction bookstore in Soho called Dark They Were And Golden Eyed. At the door, I stood back to hold it for another patron, a bearded little guy in flat cap and overcoat, on his way out. Our eyes met for a moment, we nodded courteously, and I recognised Phil in his hirsute 'Artful Dodger' period, just before he was thrust into the frontman position with Genesis that would so change his life ⁠— from modestly successful drummer to immense international popstar."
According to Wikipedia, Dark They Were And Golden Eyed, named after a short story by Ray Bradbury, was a a science-fiction and comics store that specialized in science fiction, occultism and Atlantis. It also "played a key role in bringing American underground comics to the United Kingdom. ... The shop was also the semi-official correspondence address for the magazine Fortean Times from 1978 to 1981, and the magazine's team met every Tuesday afternoon in a room above the shop."

1. As I write this, the name of Gottlieb's Twitter account is "Evict the Traitor-in-Chief!" Her Twitter bio is: "Writer, Editor, Scrabble Hustler. Lifelong enthusiasm for peace and love, the Grateful Dead, dogs, and cannabis. Jewish Atheist."

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