Acres of Books Year Founded:

1934

Core Business:

Buying and selling used books

Revenue in 1998:

$67,000

Revenue in 2000:

$276,000

Employees in 1998:

6

Employees in 2000:

4

Goal:

To stay in business

Driving Force:

To keep the public reading

Acres of books relies on a love of browsing and reading to keep it competitive with internet rivals

Acres of Books in Long Beach defies the odds of retailing. Walk into the one-story 1911 brick building and you will see row upon row of dusty tomes stacked on faded wooden bookshelves so old that many are from the store's first location established in 1934. Look closer and you'll notice that some of the bookshelves are old apple and orange crates.

Acres of Books is L.A. County's largest used bookstore and likely its most disorganized all of which lends a certain charm to the place that every year manages to pass fire inspection by Long Beach firefighters.

The last few years have been the most challenging because of competition from online book sellers and the big chains. "The store was on a real steep downhill slide for a while. The Internet really zapped us," said Jackie Smith, co-owner of the store that carries everything from vegetarian cookbooks to financial textbooks. "But finally it is coming back. I don't know what it is, but people are coming back."

For years, the store has been a favorite haunt of science fiction writer Ray Bradbury. Actor Lou Ferrigno used to stop by frequently, as well as character actor and dialogue coach Robert Easton.

But most of the customers are folks like Cynthia Reyes, who is an artist by day and works at the docks driving a truck at night. "It's very quaint. It's very comfortable here," said Reyes, who first came to the store several years ago in search of half-priced art history books.

Not really an acre

Forget the name. The store only fills a third of an acre. But placing the 700,000 used books end to end would cover 30 acres. There's also the other 300,000 books in storage.

Rows are arranged by subject matter, 500 categories in all. Nothing is organized by computer. When it's time to do inventory, the owners estimate the worth of their stock by weight. "So far the IRS hasn't said anything," Jackie Smith noted.

For the uninitiated, finding a book can be a challenge. Or a form of entertainment.

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