Businesses as neighbors, from fine wines to good books

| May 2, 2019 | 0 Comments

Wine lovers know the value of neighbors: a small independent wine store is owned by and employs people who care about wine and who attend to specific questions, interests, and tastes. Customers living nearby will likely return. A give-and-take develops between those who buy and those who sell. Both sides learn as a result. It’s a relationship that bears considering in other contexts, for with the advent of online shopping, the value of a business as a neighbor has been too often forgotten.

LARCHMONT VILLAGE Wine, Spirits & Cheese offers counsel on selections.

Chevalier’s Books functions in some of the same neighborly ways as Larchmont Village Wines, Spirits & Cheese. Because of their small size, both places must curate their inventory with care. They attend to their clients’ tastes of course, but they also seek to nourish, refine and challenge those tastes. A “wine of the month,” for example, might gently press customers outside a comfort zone, just as one of the staff member book picks — highlighted above the service counter at Chevalier’s — will occasionally prompt readers to move beyond the algorithms that serve up our “likes” on Amazon. 

“Staff pick”

I recently read one of those staff picks, Octavia Butler’s “Kindred” — a modern classic of time and space dislocations that I had long heard about but never read. Without the prompting, I may have left this haunting novel, first published in 1979, unread. I’m glad to have been introduced, in part because Dana and Kevin (the two main characters in the novel) are neighbors of a sort, too. These creations of Butler’s imagination had just moved to a house in Altadena. When Dana and Kevin met, though, they lived still closer — Dana on Crenshaw and Kevin nearby just west on Olympic. 

CHEVALIER’S BOOKS, the oldest independent bookstore in Los Angeles, was established on Larchmont in 1940.

While those familiar streets don’t factor into the main story, their mere mention helped me understand that “Kindred” isn’t about a distant time and place the characters enter and exit through some merely fantastic conceit. Rather, their sudden back and forth movements to and from the antebellum South make that painful history both current and compelling. Dana, a black woman, and Kevin, her white husband, become people I live near — even people I sometimes am. “Kindred” is discomforting in the way great books are often discomforting. I’m grateful that someone at Chevalier’s thought to recommend it. 

Books as neighbors      

Such a vital exchange about something as personal as a book is a special benefit of a small independent store. The exchange can continue in conversations with staff, with other customers, in book groups, and over dinner with family and friends. The exchanges can be sustained by events (check Chevalier’s website for those scheduled). And they can lead us to further reading. After all, books, too, inhabit neighborhoods of sorts. If you have read or reread “Kindred,” you might ask the staff at Chevalier’s about books that engage related genres, subjects, or territory, say Toni Morrison’s “Beloved,” James McBride’s “The Good Lord Bird,” or Colson Whitehead’s “The Underground Railroad.” These neighbors speak to each other and to us.  

By Bruce Beiderwell, who resides near Larchmont and formerly taught at UCLA and directed the UCLA Writing Program.

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Category: Entertainment

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