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For Over 120 Years, A Bookstore That's Been Giving Back

By Pamela Sosnowski

Vroman's has the distinction of being the oldest and largest independent bookstore in Southern California. It's been operating since 1894, when Adam Clark Vroman, a heartbroken widower and voracious reader, sold his book collection to raise the funds needed to open a bookstore. But don't let the fact that the store is over a century old fool you into thinking it's a stodgy old bookshop. To preserve Vroman's legacy of giving back to the local community, it has kept up with the times by presenting special events, donating to nonprofits, and even reducing its carbon footprint.

According to Jennifer Ramos, the store's promotional director, Vroman's distinguishes itself through "our incredible selection of books and gifts, our customer service and our very knowledgeable employees, our fantastic author and kids' events, our commitment to our community and much more!" Vroman's carries the usual selection of new releases, best sellers, and children's books as well as cards, stationery, and gifts. What it's probably best known for, however, are its special events open to the public.

One of these regularly occurring events is "Art on the Stairwell", a way for the store to showcase the work of local artists. Since 1991, a featured artist's work has lined Vroman's staircase in the middle of the store. Exhibits change every 3-4 months; occasionally, the store will host a reception for the public to meet the featured artist.

Over 120 book clubs are registered with the store, and seven local groups are hosted in the store each month. Vroman's Bookstore hosts over 300 author visits annually and features a monthly "Local Authors Night" that highlights the books of area writers.

Since Adam Vroman was passionate about helping others, the store set up a Gives Back Program to continue his legacy. "Vroman's Gives Back is a charitable program that donates a portion of customers' purchases to local nonprofits, including public radio stations, arts centers, family services, and programs supporting literacy, the homeless, and animal welfare," says Ramos. Since the program's inception, the store has donated over $655,000 to charitable organizations, including Habitat for Humanity SGV, Rosemary Children's Services, and the Armory Center for the Arts.

Vroman's also strives to be environmentally-conscious by selling recycled paper products and a household cleaning line made from natural ingredients. The store itself hired energy consultants to reduce their usage and implemented a recycling program.

For a bookstore in business for over 120 years, it shows no signs of falling behind the times. No doubt it'll be serving customers for at least another 120 more.

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