Just as the small-time corner retail shop or bakery were replaced by Wal-Marts and Targets during the '90s, small, niche bookstores where swallowed up by big retail giants such as Borders and Barnes & Nobles.
The bookstores that survived, or those that opened their doors during this "guzzling" up of the retail industry, existed because they served and reflected the community they belonged to. Now hard to find, they were service centers for the local, curious and intellectually minded. They provided customers with an array of curated topics that allowed them to find connections between subjects, authors and ideas that generated a perspective from which to view the world.
One of these places was Arroyo Books in Highland Park. It was opened in August of 1990 by husband and wife Philip Gillette and Florence Tiran. On any given night you would find writer and poet Ruben Martinez reading from one of his new books, or catch Zack de la Rocha (who played and instigated much discussion at the neighboring joint Regeneración) browsing through some of Sub-Comandante Marcos writings.
While it lasted, Arroyo Books was considered to have one the largest collection of bilingual titles in the city and boasted some of the best Chicano Literature line-ups. This, accompanied by pan dulce and café con leche, provided the area with much more than a bookstore, it was a gathering space for critical thought, conversation and community.
Above, Raul Baltazar, a local artist and Highland Park resident, recounts his personal experience in Arroyo Books, a former bookstore on Figueroa at Avenue 55 that supplied Spanish-language books and a cultural center for the community.