Bookstore down: Russo's in Bakersfield

Photo of Russo's by Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

Here's the thing about Russo's and the state of brick-and-mortar bookstores in California today. According to the Bakersfield Californian, Russo's is "the only independent general bookstore between Santa Clarita and Sacramento." The store is slated to close on January 31 after 24 years in the The Marketplace shopping center. An online presence will remain. "I haven't given up hope," said owner Michael Russo. "We're still looking at other locations. But obviously, people's reading habits have changed."

Russo's was much more than a quiet carpeted haven of 15,000 books, plus cards, calendars, confections and comics. It served as a lodestar, a community hub where schools, writers, parents and promoters of local events could turn for sponsorship, books signings, ticket sales and support.

Whether a book signing for Iliana Cothers' "Don't Lay Twitchin' in Someone's Kitchen!: The Story of Fred the Fly and Lessons He Learned" or "The Great Central Valley: California's Heartland" by Stephen Johnson, Robert Dawson and Gerald Haslam; whether a Pokemon play and trade session or the so-called "cardboard crack" game of Magic: The Gathering; whether ticket sales for A Master Chorale Christmas or a midnight opening for a Harry Potter book release, Russo's was the organizer, locale and liaison.

It's where schools ordered their books, fans got early issues of sports fantasy magazines, kids came for weekly story times and adults met the likes of authors and personalities such as Dr. Laura Schlessinger and Mike Huckabee.

"It's books," Russo said. "It's community. Books draw people in; they have a special bond with people."

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