Bright Young Things: The Bookshop

Our series profiling the next generation of antiquarian booksellers continues today with Brad and Jen Johnson, proprietors of The Bookshop in Covina, California.

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NP: How did you both get started in rare books?

BJ: At the tender age of fifteen ­ before I knew any better ­ I answered an ad for an “apprentice bookseller” in my high school bulletin. This past December, I celebrated my 19th years in the trade. Jen, a former newspaper reporter and public relations executive, dove in headfirst when we purchased the shop. She was recently accepted as an Associate Member of the ABAA.

NP: When did you take over The Book Shop?

BJ: We purchased The Book Shop in October 2006 from Brad¹s mentor Roger Gozdecki, who now operates Anthology Rare Books in Pasadena, California.

NP: What roles do each of you play within the company?

BJ: We make an excellent team, and collaborate in many aspects of the business. Jen manages the finances and public relations, while I am responsible for the lion¹s share of the buying and cataloguing books.

NP: Tell us about your shop in Covina:

Established in 1981, The Book Shop is located in the heart of downtown Covina, about 20 miles east of Los Angeles. Our shop is open six days a week and houses an inventory of some 30,000 titles, ranging from the general second-hand to the truly antiquarian.

NP: Have you found it challenging to maintain a brick-and-mortar store in the age of online bookselling?

BJ: Like any small business, it can be challenging. However, we have found that as bookstores are closing around us, The Book Shop has become more of a destination for those who hunger for the opportunity to browse the stacks and let serendipity lead the way.

NP: What do you love about the book trade?

BJ: First and foremost, the pursuit and acquisition of knowledge. We also love the thrill of the hunt and the satisfaction of placing a book in the right hands.

NP: Favorite book (or etc) you’ve handled?

BJ: A few years ago, we acquired an early 17th century English law text with a chained binding complete with the iron chain. More recently, we handled a great Edgar Allan Poe collection that included the February 1845 issue of The American Review containing the first appearance of The Raven.

NP: What do you personally collect?

BJ: We have a small collection of books either personally inscribed to us or handed down through generations. Brad tends toward ancient history and European noir, while Jen likes quirky books, such as “Fearsome Creatures of the Lumberwoods” (1910), a fantasy field guide to the mythical creatures of North America.

NP: Any thoughts to share on the future of the book trade?

BJ: Early in my bookselling career, I spent countless hours combing the pages of AB Bookman¹s Weekly. Now my days are web based. The trade is constantly evolving, but much remains the same. As booksellers, we are locating materials and constructing narratives around them that reflect their significance and scarcity. I feel as though my generations of booksellers are telling original and dynamic narratives that are inspiring new collectors while also respecting the traditions of the trade. As such, I am
bullish on the future of the trade.

NP: Tell us about your new collective catalogue and how to get a copy:

BJ: Our friends in the trade are like family to us, and we really look forward to every opportunity to come together and share our experiences, knowledge, and passion for what we do. It is in that spirit that The Collective came together.

As I recall, the idea was formed during a conversation I had with my brother Josh Mann of B&B Rare Books in New York during the 2011 Seattle Antiquarian Book Fair. The concept was to feature a small selection of books representative of each firms¹ inventory, while also generating excitement for the California book fairs this February. It was a lot fun working collaboratively and thanks to Jen¹s design skills, the final product looks fantastic.

You can obtain a copy of the collective by emailing brad@bookshopllc.com and let him know if you would like to be mailed a hard copy or would like a PDF.

(Photo Credit: Teri Osborn)
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