TUSTIN, Calif. — Amid skyrocketing COVID cases, lockdowns and local businesses shuttering last October, Sam and Mike Robertson took a leap of faith and opened Arvida Book Co., a local used and new bookstore in the heart of Old Town Tustin.
Sam Robertson, a former flight attendant, was facing furlough and her husband Mike Robertson, who worked in insurance, had already been furloughed when the couple decided to open up a local business.
“It was a dark and heavy time. For us, it felt like a do or die time. We always wanted to open a bookstore with a coffee shop inside. Books are so important. They are such an essential part of humanity. The human connection you get from books is something that I know we were all missing during quarantine,” said Sam Robertson.
In fact, their love for each other is straight out of the books.
“One thing that tied us to books is when we were traveling, we would always check out bookstores. They were always a fun place to go on dates and hangout,” said Mike Robertson.
“The neighborhood bookstores are reflective of its community and that was something we didn’t have in Orange County. It was something that we always complained about. The only bookstores we had were chains,” said Robertson.
Sam Robertson is Ghanaian but was born and raised in Canada and has lived in Orange County for over 20 years. Mike Robertson is Colombian. For both of them, Tustin is a special place that feels like the last small town in Orange County.
Located on the corner of El Camino and Main Street, Arvida Book Co. finds itself amid family-operated businesses like Morning Lavender, American Grub and Spice & Tulips. When the bookstore first opened, one local business owner donated some of the bookcases, while another business owner gave them a cash wrap.
“We are all connected and supportive,” said Sam Robertson. “We couldn’t have picked a better neighborhood to start a business. Everyone has chipped in and helped.”
In just one year of being in business, the bookstore has grown and it is all because of community members who come in to shop and donate. For example, when a customer comes in asking for a new book, if it is not available, they will place an order and usually order a few extra copies. The new books at the store are a spectrum of what community members are reading.
On a recent Saturday, Gladys Kempe — who has lived in Tustin for 40 years — finally made her visit to Arvida.
“I have been driving past this place for weeks, months. Today I have a little extra time, so I said today is the day I have to check it out. I love books. I don’t like to buy new ones if I can get them used,” she said. “I’ve seen this particular space in many different incarnations, and I am so glad to have a used bookstore in Tustin.”
Arvida Book Co. also hosts book readings. Recently, local author J. Dharma Windham held a reading for his recent book, “Reluctant Goddess: Book 1 of the Kleopatra Chronicles.”
Just like many other businesses across the country, Arvida Book Co. has not been spared by the supply shortages and shipping delays.
“Shop early. If you are looking for a special order, please place it by the first week in December,” said Sam Robertson. “We are definitely seeing challenges when it comes to shipments coming in. They are coming in late. The backups are already starting.”
On Small Business Saturday, Arvida Book Co. will be hosting other local businesses' pop-ups in their parking lot, hoping to attract customers looking to shop local for the holidays.
“We as a small business are incredibly grateful for the holiday rush. It pushes us through the entire year,” said Sam Robertson.
According to an American Express Shop Small Impact survey, 56% of small businesses surveyed indicated that this year’s Shop Small Saturday will be more critical than ever, and 78% said holiday sales will impact their ability to keep their doors open in 2022.
This year, customers who spend $100 will receive a custom enamel-made Arvida pin, which was designed by local artist Rebecca Wang.
Arvida Book Co. continues to accept book donations, but they request that you keep your fridge and microwave manuals. The newly installed coffee shop gives guests a chance to come in, enjoy a cup of coffee and have a place to get some reading or work done — whether it be at the bar stool table looking out to the main street or on one of the many comfy couches.
Sam Robertson is also hoping to bring the community together beyond just books and holiday shopping.
Recently, after hard work, she and an organization she is working with were given some land by the local library that will be used for a community garden in Old Town Tustin.
“We are actively fundraising and looking for volunteers. If anybody wants to contribute, reach out to me,” she said.
She hopes the garden will give the community another space to gather, meet and work next to one another.