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Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism University of Southern California

Libros Schmibros

Libros Schmibros isn’t your ordinary used bookstore.

In a non-descript building in the heart of Boyle height, there is a treasure trove of books.

“I like sort of the serendipity of a funky little book store where you don’t expect it,” said Julie Jackal.

But Libros Schmibros isn’t your ordinary used bookstore. Boyle Heights residents pay just one dollar for book.

“It’s like there’s these hidden little treasures and people can be like, oh it’s a really great book and they read through it and enjoy it, and they realize later oh my god, it’s a first edition,” said Andrew Vasquez, a volunteer at Libros.

The unusual name is a nod to the neighborhood’s Jewish past and the thriving Hispanic community that live in Boyle Heights now.

“It’s still an immigrant community,” said Estaire Press, a volunteer at the Breed Street Schul. “It’s still a community of people who don’t speak the language and want them to learn the language and the culture and to have a good life here.”

Part of the reason the store opened was because the local library was cutting its hours and closing on Monday’s.  But since then, the influence of Libros Schmibros has spread beyond Boyle Heights.

"So you’ll get people coming over from the West side to the East side, which never happens in LA.” said Catherine Fryszczyn, the Director of Operations at Libros Schmibros. “This is a space where people from East and West get to talk and interact about things they care about, about books and the life of the mind.”

The store relies solely on donated books, but most of the books are from founder David Kipen’s personal collection he amassed as a book critic.

“Kids sit in these disgusting over stuffed, thrift shop barca loungers for an hour or two hours or even three on end, reading poetry,” said the Libros Founder, David Kipen. “I mean you know, it’s like writing book reviews, except you get to sit at everybody’s breakfast table.”

He hopes by bringing books to the neighborhood, he can help enrich the already vibrant culture. So far, it seems to be working.

“I get to see so many different books of different authors,” said Victoria Hernandez, a Boyle Heights resident.

“There’s a lot of good books here that are in Spanish and they’re from a long time ago,” said Leslie Mendez, a high school student in Boyle Heights.

They have another small book annex up the street, where books are borrowed and purchased on an honors system.

"It’s good to go to the store and open the door and find a bunch of dollar bills under the door, cuz it shows that it’s working,” said Vasquez. “And we’re not quite sure how many books are taken, but either way, we’re getting books in their hands, and we might get a few dollars out of it.”

The Libros staff thinks neighborhood bookstores will always have a place, even if big box stores like Borders couldn’t succeed.

“If bookstores have a future, and I think they do, it’s in neighborhoods like Boyle Heights,” said Kipen. “It’s in neighborhoods where there aren’t a lot of kindles, there aren’t a lot of iPads. It’s books or nothing.”

A temporary pop up shop at the Hammer Museum in Westwood is helping Libros bridge the East-West cultural and digital divide—uniting two sides of a city that often seem worlds apart.

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