What’s up(stairs) in Claremont?
The story behind Second Story Books of Claremont.
by Jillian Peña
photography by Leah Heagy
As summer approaches and those of us in the Inland Empire look to the outdoors for our weekend entertainment, the streets of Claremont Village begin to buzz with students making summer plans and families talking about how beautiful the weather is. While walking around the Village, you may notice a small, unpretentious sign for a bookstore located on Yale Street.
If you aren’t looking for “Second Story – Books of Claremont,” you might miss the small blue door wedged between a busy Italian restaurant and an upscale woman’s clothing boutique. But if you do find it, consider yourself lucky because you are about to embark on an adventure equal to that of the “Odyssey,” “Moby Dick” or “Pride and Prejudice.” You have just found a book lover’s paradise.
The creaky and poorly lit staircase that leads to the second story bookstore sets the stage for the fairytale setting that lies above. Like entering the enchanted wardrobe from the classic C.S. Lewis tales of “The Chronicles of Narnia,” or the secret passageways in the ever-popular Nancy Drew books, it is hard to know what lies beyond that last step. Your excitement rises; the smell of books and dust is now bombarding your senses. As you climb the steps, your eye catches the floor-to-ceiling bookshelf packed with books of all kinds. These priceless treasures are just waiting to be dusted off and cracked open.
Once you reach the final step of the old staircase, it takes a minute to really take in what you are looking at. The maze-like second story is divided into several rooms—eight, to be exact. Each has floor-to-ceiling bookshelves packed with fact and fiction. Customers ranging in age from 17 to 87 mill around the 24-year-old store looking for something that will spark their interests. This task is not exactly difficult because the small store, filled with so much character, has what seems to be an endless selection of categories from which to choose. Topics range from philosophy, Americana, New Testament studies and math to European literature, Civil War, politics, dance and architecture.
Kyle Hernandez, a 22-year-old Covina resident, sits quietly behind the front desk with a small cash register and computer. He looks like your average college student, kicking back at his part-time job, just making some extra cash. However, he is actually the owner of the bookstore. To own a bookstore at age 22 is something most would flaunt, but Hernandez is a very modest man.
“Book lover is the only business that I have ever known, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world,” Hernandez says. Last October he bought the store from a man who had owned it for 24 years, when it was called “Claremont Books and Prints.” Hernandez was familiar with the store because of his passion for the written word. One day he saw a sign that said something along the lines of “If you want to own a bookstore, call this number.” So he picked up the phone on a whim and called.
Hernandez is determined to maintain the unique character of the store where you can buy, sell and trade books, and where it is possible to find a 1901 version of the classic novel “Canterbury Tales.” Miranda Garcia, a 20-year-old college student, loves the atmosphere that the store offers to its customers. Garcia’s grandmother always encouraged her to read as a child. She left Garcia several first-edition books when she passed away, and that sparked Garcia’s passion to find other first editions of classic novels.
“I love coming here. Every time you walk in you can find some treasure. Right now, I’m looking at this 1901 version of the ‘Canterbury Tales.’ Seriously, it’s like holding history in your hands,” Garcia says as she walks away to sit and flip through the pages of the old book.
The store is meant to feel like a place where you can come to escape. It is okay to curl up in a corner and read for a while. There are even strategically placed old wooden chairs that invite customers into their arms to enjoy a few quick pages of their book of choice. Hernandez admits that if the funds were available, he would make a few changes to the store.
The biggest change, though, is the addition of a Web site at secondstoryclaremont.com, where customers can go to access information about the store and buy books online. The site came to Hernandez free of charge because one of the store’s regulars offered to create the Web site in exchange for books. That is part of the charm of the bookstore; it is a place where people feel comfortable coming back time and time again. Many of the regulars become personal friends with Hernandez. As a matter of fact, people love the store so much that many of the books that the store receives tend to be from former patrons who have passed away and whose families donate the books to the store as instructed in their will.
So if you are looking for a place almost as good as home to curl up with a good book, drop by this cozy hideaway for an adventure, a fairytale, a poem or anything else your literary appetite desires.