Reflections on Either/Or Bookstore

by Garrison Frost

Sifting through one of our old desk drawers the other day, we happened upon a stack of the cheap construction paper bookmarks that used to be given out with every book purchased at Either/Or Bookstore. Interesting bit of ephemera here. At first, the discovery prompted a bit of nostalgia for the glory days of downtown Hermosa Beach, before they closed the street to foot traffic and the place turned into a laboratory petri dish for post-collegiate DNA. But as we fingered the cheap strips of paper, it dawned on us that the legacy of Either/Or was more complicated than that.

At one time, undoubtedly, Either/Or was an institution with a richly deserved reputation as the countercultural center of the larger beach cities area. Fine literature was given its due, but so were the alternative texts of the underground voices. This was where you could get your Charles Bukowski, your Noam Chomsky and your "Anarchist's Cookbook." This was where you could learn about Eastern religions, alternative medicine and erotic massage.

And to make things even better, the place was positively quirky. There was that black cat that never seemed to die, Justine I think the name was. There was the manager, who apparently went by several different names depending on who you were (He was always Peter Pott to me). And there were the owners, who were notoriously mean to employees and customers alike.

As much as I remember that Either/Or, I also remember the other one, the one that was dying for many years, getting by on its reputation alone. Shelves were empty, important titles were absent and new books were just not there. The snobbishness became annoying, and the tendency to go to other bookstores where one knew the book was to be had more prevalent.

And so in 1999 when the store finally left downtown Hermosa Beach for new digs on Aviation Boulevard where it ultimately closed just a few months later, we were reminded of an old diseased cat skulking off to a dark corner to die in peace. Many tried to paint the store's end as a metaphor for all that has gone wrong in downtown Hermosa Beach, but that never rang completely true. Sure, downtown Hermosa Beach has gone to hell, but Either/Or had become as much the problem as anything else. It was dead wood, a business run into the ground by obstinate owners who didn't understand how to run a business. They didn't make the most (or anything, for that matter) of what they had.

We'll miss the store, but then we already missed it long before it closed.

Anyway, we did buy a lot of cool books there, and enjoyed milling around even when we didn't buy anything. And we'll hang onto the bookmarks for a while, because they're cool if nothing else, and they remind us of something worth thinking about.

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