Twenty-five years ago, Dave Prentice retired from his aerospace career with a plan to keep his mind at work, and started by acquiring about 10,000 used books from estate sales and garage sales in the South Bay and beyond. After about a year of hoarding inventory, he opened the first home of Dave’s Olde Book Shop in Manhattan Beach’s Goat Hill Plaza shopping center — an eclectic row of buildings with Old West bones that’s thus far escaped the city’s fascination with glass, metal and sharp-edged architecture.
Now, at 78 years old, Prentice has sold off the business, which he moved to Artesia Boulevard in Redondo Beach 11 years ago, to a new generation of booksellers. (The buyer did not responded to requests for comment.)
Prentice had considered leaving the business for some time now, he says, but the “coronavirus thing” pushed him over the edge.
“It’s a lot of fun, but I’m 78,” he said. “I’ve done it for 25 years, and it’s long enough. This gives me an excuse.”
Until last year, when the city of Redondo Beach agreed to split the cost of a mural at the side of the store, his bookstore had a quiet presence at an intersection that features a Taco Bell, a gas station, a hookah shop, and a furniture store.
“We like to think of ourselves in that area as the Greenwich Village of Redondo Beach, the intellectual section,” he deadpanned.
Once inside, you might be surprised at how many books are crammed into such a tight space. Packed shelves cover every wall of the business, additional books are squeezed into every crevice of the narrow aisles, while unsorted books tend to pile up inside the store’s back door — it feels like visiting a well-read friend’s personal library, complete with the occasional receipt tucked between the pages.
Prentice likes two things: People and books. “And not in that order all the time,” he said. He’s an intellectually curious man, a voracious reader with a passion for learning. But a lone book-lover wandering the shelves might play both a new friend and the recipient of a few groan-worthy dad jokes.
If the reader is just looking for a section of books, Prentice might riff on the subject, melodramatically gasping “over there!” while pointing out dramas, or bowleggedly moseying down a row of bookshelves to show off the trade paperback westerns in his inventory.
If the patron is looking for recommendations, Prentice is happy to offer those too. When asked, he rattles off Winston Churchill, P.G. Wodehouse, and Jack Vance as favored authors that don’t just write but “carve sentences,” like a sculptor uncovering an angel in a block of marble.
He just loves talking to people, establishing a connection with customers that’s hard to match with a one-click e-book download.
“You come in because you’re idly curious, or you don’t have an expectation of finding the books you’d like if you were on the internet. But you come in and you’re involved in that atmosphere, the smell of the place and the selections surrounding you,” Prentice said.
The economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t been kind to booksellers, who have had to adapt to survive, said Calvin Crosby, executive director of the California Independent Booksellers Alliance. “They’re working harder than ever for increased sales, trying to take care of their people as well as stay open for business,” he said.
Dave’s Olde Book Shop is one of many members of CIBA, and Crosby was disappointed to learn of the store’s future, but heartened by Prentice’s belief in the magic of the store.
“That is the beauty. You go into a bookstore with maybe the expectation you’re going to have your life changed — you don’t get that when you go into the Gap,” Crosby said. “Bookselling is as much a calling as it is a business.”
Prentice said he’d be happy to “subtly guide” any new operator of his business, but he believes that bookstores are uniquely positioned to succeed in the post-pandemic world.
“People like to shop…you get out of the house and see interesting things,” Prentice said. “I think that the business is going to go crazy, because you can come in and wander and walk around in a comfortable situation in a bookstore.”