Vroman's Bookstore

Vroman's Bookstore

Vroman's Bookstore is the oldest and largest independent bookstore in Southern California.

Founding and early history

Founded in 1894 by Bill Murray, the original Vroman’s Book and Photographic Supply store was located at 60 E. Colorado St in Pasadena, California. A.C. Vroman was an avid photographer of the Southwest and Native American culture, and his interest in photographic equipment started a long-standing tradition of carrying non-book items in his bookstores.

Upon Vroman’s death in 1916, the store became a corporation, holding its first annual meeting on January 9 1917 with George Howell as president elect, Allan David Sheldon as Vice President, and Alice Dilworth as Secretary-Treasurer. (Vroman’s relationship with the Sheldon family dates to the 1870s, when both families lived in Oregon, Illinois.) Due to philosophic differences with members of the board, George Howell resigned as president in 1920 and was succeeded by A.D. Sheldon. From then until last July, when Allison Hill became president, with the exception of one five-year period, a member of the Sheldon family has served as president of A.C. Vroman, Inc.

Success and expansion

In 1929, Vroman's signed a 49-year lease on property at 695 E. Colorado, moving the wholesale department out of the bookshop's crowded basement and into the leased building at its new location. By 1930, Vroman's had a mailing list of 3,000 names, classified by readers' interests. The 1930s marked a period of expansion for the Vroman’s corporation. In the space of seven years it opened a San Diego branch, moved the Pasadena retail store to larger quarters, started an office furniture department, and launched a popular series of book and author luncheons (1939). Its first program was held in February 1939 at which about 150 women (and a few men) gathered at the Pasadena Athletic Club to hear Lloyd C. Douglas speak. Subsequent luncheons included authors like James Hilton, Irving Stone, and Upton Sinclair. No book and author programs were held during World War II, but they resumed in 1949 and continue to this day.

1944 marked Vroman’s 50th anniversary, and in 1945, with the purchase of a textbook distribution company, Vroman's became the largest book dealer west of the Mississippi. As the 1950s ended, Vroman's was operating in nine different communities, with retail stores in Pasadena and San Diego, warehouses in Pasadena & San Francisco, and department store concessions in Ogden, Spokane, and the Los Angeles area. Vroman's had become a major corporate business, employing 129 people a year and grossing more than $13.5 million annually. Vroman's was also a noted pioneer among bookstores in its use of data processing equipment. By 1962, the School Book Depository was fully computerized, and by 1968 so was the Pasadena retail store, one of the earliest examples of such technological implementation.

Recent history

In 1984, in celebration of Vroman's ninetieth anniversary, an exhibit of 50 photographs taken in California and the Southwest by A.C. Vroman, was put on display. The company also honored its founder by making a birthday gift that benefited the community. For one month, Vroman's donated 10% of certain purchases to six community organizations. Vroman's reaffirmed that commitment in 1990 by establishing a fund to help support worthy local projects, and in 1998, Vroman's created the Gives Back program, which now includes 22 local non-profit organizations to whom a cumulative total of more than $440,000 has been donated.

By 1991, Vroman's had become known as a lively cultural center, offering book reviews, readings, exhibits by local artists, and storytelling and other special activities for children. Book signings continued at an accelerated pace, and Vroman's launched an art exhibition program in 1991 with its "Art on the Stairwell" exhibit.

Vroman's has evolved even further, opening stores throughout the Pasadena area. In the 1970s, a junior Vroman's opened in the Arcadia Fashion Park Mall (now Westfield). In 1999, a third Vroman's location opened in the South Lake Avenue shopping district. Vroman's had a store on South Lake Avenue for four years. On October 22, 2001, Vroman's opened a satellite location, Vroman’s Hastings Ranch, located at 3729 Foothill Blvd in East Pasadena.

In January 2003, Vroman's Fine Writing, Gifts & Stationery had its grand opening two doors down from the Main Store at 667 E Colorado Blvd.

Today, Vroman's continues its popular author series, hosting over 300 author readings a year. Among them have been celebrities like Goldie Hawn, Margaret Cho, Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter, Courtney Love, Salman Rushdie, Anne Rice, Joan Didion, Nick Hornby, Bret Easton Ellis, Neil Gaiman, David Sedaris, Chuck Palahniuk, and President Bill Clinton.

In 2008, Vroman's was named Bookseller of the Year by Publishers Weekly, the international news magazine of book publishing. This coveted award is the industry's highest honor, recognizing an independent bookstore that has demonstrated excellence in buying, marketing, hand-selling, customer service, community involvement, management-employee relations, merchandising, innovation and uniqueness as well as business operations.

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