Pomona College Magazine
Volume 45, No. 1
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Off-Campus / Second Story Books
One for the Books

By Adam Conner-Simons ’08

Brainy little Claremont, with its cluster of colleges and abundance of Ph.D.s, was at risk of losing its venerable independent bookstore last year. That is, until 22-year-old Kyle Hernandez saw a sign.

He had been browsing shops in the village, and was about to ascend the stairs to Claremont Books & Prints, when he spied a poster out of the corner of his eye: “If you want to own a bookstore, call this number.”

A used bookstore employee at the time, he was intrigued, and, not expecting anything to come of it, gave owner Charles Goldsmid a call. They immediately struck up a friendly rapport, and, two months later, after a series of phone conversations and e-mails, “I had the keys to the store,” says Hernandez. Second Story Books was born.

Goldsmid, who after running the store for 24 years was looking to spend more time on book appraisals and other pursuits, says Hernandez was an unexpected but highly qualified candidate for the job. “He is smart, well-read and very personable,” says Goldsmid.

While not a born bookworm—in fact, as a dyslexic, Hernandez found reading extremely difficult growing up— Hernandez developed a love for literature in high school when his mother lost her hearing and the family started watching television with subtitles: “It kind of turned me into a speed-reader by default.”

Hernandez quickly put his own mark on the store, which had specialized in rare and out-of-print books. A passionate reader of graphic novels, Hernandez added a large collection to the store’s inventory, and is hoping the community will gain an appreciation of the burgeoning genre. He also cleaned up some of the charming clutter that the store had built up over the years: “There just wasn’t space to look at books.”

Pomona English Professor Meg Worley, who has ventured to Second Story several times since its November 2007 opening, praises Hernandez for adding graphic novels and more historical writing. “These days it’s heroic to have a used bookstore in Claremont, and he’s doing a great job with it,” says Worley.

Wearing blue jeans, Converse All-Stars and a quiet, youthful smile, Hernandez is more likely to be pegged as one of Claremont’s many college students than as a business owner. But he is determined to hold his ground against both the chain bookstore behemoths and online booksellers that allow people to shop in the comfort of their own home.

Hernandez makes the case that independent bookshops offer more charm and personalized service. He hopes to organize special events such as readings and book signings, and would also like to eventually put together a literary journal of community writing. He says that, even with the extensive inventories of larger establishments, used bookstores often have offbeat, hard-to-find books that you wouldn’t get anywhere else.

And he is turning the tables on the online booksellers. Claremont Books & Prints didn’t sell books online; Hernandez estimates that 70 percent of Second Story’s sales take place over the Web, which, strangely, just might keep this brick-and-mortar bookstore in business.

©Copyright 2008
by Pomona College
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