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Mills’ backyard: Laurel Book Store

Left image: Courtesy of Right: Courtesy of Freddy Gutierrez. A recent event brought together Mills students and the Laurel Book Store, owned by Luan Strauss.
Left image: Courtesy of Right: Courtesy of Freddy Gutierrez. A recent event brought together Mills students and the Laurel Book Store, owned by Luan Strauss.

Luan Stauss is the Laurel District’s friendly neighborhood bookseller. Upbeat and spunky, she’s been in the business since 2001.

“We built the damn shelves ourselves,” Stauss said of her shop, the Laurel Book Store.

The Laurel Book Store is located at the corner of 39th Ave. and MacArthur Blvd. in the Laurel Business district. From the outside, the store has a quaint look, its front door bookended by two protruding display windows. From the outside passersby can see stands of greeting cards to the left, with current bestsellers displayed on the right. The inside of the store looks like many small bookstores: wall-to-wall shelves filled with a variety of books.

Stauss lives in the neighborhood, as do many of her regular clients. Stauss said that the Laurel Book Store is definitely a community bookstore and that many neighbors have contributed to her business, even before they put the shelves in. She said that support for the idea of a local bookstore has always come from neighbors.

“I had the idea for a book store and before I had voiced it, neighbors from the Laurel Village Association had said that they wanted a local bookstore,” she said. “So I got really inspired.”

The Laurel Village Association is an all-volunteer neighborhood organization that seeks to improve the life of residents in the Laurel District neighborhood of Oakland.

“The people who work here keep me coming back,” said Dyn Burgess, a local customer with a fixation on vampire-related and supernatural books, who has a personal frequent buyer account at Stauss’s shop.

Burgess said she’s purchased over 200 titles since opening her frequent buyer account in 2005 and tries to visit the store at least once a week.

She was wearing a lanyard that read “I (heart symbol) VAMPIRES,” and the three novels she purchased all bore vampire characters on the covers.

But customers like Burgess are few and far between, according to Stauss. It’s been a difficult year for the shop financially, and she said she’s noticed a decrease in foot traffic since the big discount grocery store moved in across the street, replacing the smaller Lucky’s that was there before. Stauss said that the bookstore used to receive quite a bit of spillover from Lucky’s, but the flow of customers has since declined. Stauss also said she’s noticed quite a few empty stores in the neighborhood.

Twice a week the store places orders for books that aren’t in stock and even offers e-books through its website.

Given the proximity to the Mills campus, one might expect Mills students, at least those in the English department, to shop regularly at the bookstore.

“I wish we could get more Mills customers. But I know it’s daunting and nerve wracking to be on the boulevard,” Stauss said.

Stauss said that a few years back, professors from Mills would take groups of students on walking tours through the Laurel business district. She said it offered the store greater visibility for students.

But there is one professor who has managed to build and maintain a reciprocal relationship with the Laurel. For the last seven or eight years, Mills English professor Micheline Marcom has been a link between the English department and the Laurel Book Store.

The relationship is important to Marcom because she says that bookstores are the backbone of writing. And when a patron buys from a local bookstore they support that business directly, just as when one buys a given writer’s book, they’re supporting that writer directly.

The relationship has manifested several readings featuring Mills students at the store as well as a reading at Mills, in the Mills Hall living room. The most recent reading occurred on Wednesday Dec. 4 at 7:00 p.m. Students from Marcom’s graduate prose classes read at the bookstore.

“I bring in my writers and Luan supports that. It’s meaningful for students because they get the experience of reading in a bookstore,” Marcom said. “I bring undergrad and grads together so they get that experience too.”

Stauss addressed the crowd of students, speaking on the importance of patronizing local bookstores.

“Otherwise you won’t have a place to put your book,” Stauss said. “If you just want to publish your book online, that’s fine… let Amazon do a reading for you.”

Marcom’s students read from sections of their prose. Family proved to be the most prominent subject; other stories included a tale about a “small” 6 ft. tall boy lumberjack named Axe, the perceived annoyance of the Campanil clock tower bells, and a narrative written as a litany for the dead.

Students leaned in whenever a peer read and applauded wholeheartedly when the individual readings would end. The students seemed to be supportive and eager about the reading.

“It’s great to be here and support the neighborhood bookstore,” said Perla Melendez, a Mills graduate book arts student. “This is a great way to end the semester in a formal setting.”

When the reading was over the students assisted in moving the shelves back into place and a few even purchased books on their way out.

Mills students receive a 10 percent discount on all purchases.

The Lauren Book Store’s website is Information on the bookstore can also be found on Facebook; follow the shop via Twitter @LaurelBookStore.

Correction: The contributing writer’s name was misspelled in the print version of this story. It is Freddy Gutierrez, not Freddy Gonzalez.