What Amazon Can’t Offer: How Our Local Independent Bookstore Builds Community 

Photo Courtesy of La Playa Books on Instagram. @laplayabooks.

By: Aliah Fabros 

If you travel down pot-hole-ridden Rosecrans, you’ll find La Playa Books — an independent used bookstore located six minutes away from campus. Upon opening their heavy wooden door, you’ll be greeted by the chime of a bell and that woody, slightly medicinal old-book smell. 

The floor-to-ceiling shelves are crammed with a dizzying assortment: from pocket-sized mysteries to shiny graphic novels to the latest best sellers. Kazim Ali, a renowned poet and professor of writing at the University of California, San Diego, is nestled beside Geoffrey Chaucer and Jane Austen. 

Due to a store-wide 75% sale that ran from Feb. 13-27, these shelves have been cleared. No, La Playa Books isn’t closing. On the contrary, they’re undergoing a remodel. 

Amy Hesselink, the owner of La Playa Books, says the store has looked the same since the 1990s. Now that they’ve owned it for seven years, it’s time to freshen up the space, she said. 

From 1990-2016 Point Loma Books occupied building 1026 on Rosecrans Street. When Hessenlink’s father heard that the owner, Denton Holland, was leaving the business he decided to purchase the bookstore. According to Hesselink, her father bought the store to ensure the continuation of a literary space in Point Loma. 

In its seven years of operation, La Playa Books has used that literary space to embrace the community. According to Hesselink, their partnership with the Point Loma Assembly helped to expand Cabrillo Elementary’s library. La Playa Books also accepts donations during Christmas so kids at Burbank Elementary, who often do not own any books, can go home with some, she said. 

However, their connection to the community expands beyond elementary schools. According to Hesselink, they have donated to the Thursday Club rummage sale and created baskets of books for the Rotary Club of Point Loma. 

La Playa Books also has a relationship with Point Loma Nazarene University (PLNU). They frequently partner with PLNU’s annual Writers Symposium at the Sea and the staff of the school’s creative arts magazine, “Driftwood, has conducted open mics in their bookstore. 

“To bring an experience like that to a young writer, to give them the chance to share and practice reading aloud in a public space, and to help build that confidence, I think is important and formative to their ability to be a writer and reader and share their work down the road,” Logan Watson (2022 alumnus of PLNU and former editor of “Driftwood”) said. “Plus, you’re surrounded by books and who doesn’t love books and the smell of them?” 

There is a lot of debate about the state of independent bookstores in the United States. While the number of independent bookstores has experienced a recent resurgence since the COVID-19 pandemic, there is no denying the grip Amazon has on the book-selling industry. 

Amazon is responsible for half of the sales from the Big Five publishers and controls approximately 50-80% of the U.S. market for printed books. 

Hesselink is no stranger to this Goliath. 

“The hardest thing is perhaps watching a customer shop our store and then price check on Amazon,” said Hesselink. “That is always a bummer because that doesn’t create the local community — the local area in your town that’s got the great shops that are run by people who live in your neighborhood who pay their taxes and aren’t trying to colonize the moon.” 

Despite the temptation to buy books from Bezos, some people are still partial to the local bookstore. 

“Smallish and quiet, but they pack a mean punch as far as their book selection. I was able to find books here that were hard to come by even while resorting to online shopping,” customer David Chamber wrote in a Google review after his first visit to La Playa Books. 

In another Google review, customer Edie Chapman said, “Supporting our indie bookstores is definitely more satisfying than a soul sucking internet search and click.” 

According to Hesselink, even though Amazon may offer the book at a price that’s 30% cheaper, the true cost is the disappearance of these communal,family-run spaces. 

“The greatest joy is the community that is created in a bookstore and listening to the stories of our customers,” said Hesselink. “You hear wonderful stories that are centered around literature and that is quite fulfilling.”