A few days ago, I heard that Samuel French Film & Television Bookshop, is closing its Sunset Boulevard location at the end of this month. I felt crushed by this news. Samuel French, especially the Sunset blvd. location ( other locations still live on,) has been one of my favorite places since I was a teenager. Bookstores are magic and for a theatre lover, Samuel French is the most magical of all.
My love of theatre and plays began well before I discovered Samuel French. It started in elementary school, when I was about ten and I found the play section at our local Crown Books. My mom and I used to have an amazing ritual, where every Friday night we would go the bookstore and she would buy us each a new book. As soon as I discovered theater, I began to amass quite an impressive collection of plays. Neil Simon, especially his Brighton Beach Trilogy, was the first playwright that I really loved. I read plays and became familiar with playwrights, before even attending my first play. My mom had instilled a love for books and movies (our Sunday morning ritual was a trip to the cinema), but she wasn't a fan of live theater.
As soon as I saw my first play, I was hooked. It was a production of The Phantom of the Opera at the Ahmanson Theatre in downtown Los Angeles. I would guess that many Los Angeles kids of my generation had this same show as their first musical or theatre experience. It ran at the Ahmanson Theatre for four years and to say it was a big deal in Los Angeles is an understatement. I ended up seeing it seven times during its run.
Shortly after, I auditioned for The Los Angeles County High School for the Arts (LACHSA) and was accepted to begin my sophomore year as a theatre major. I love theater and respect the art of acting, but acting was never for me. I love my high school, the friends that I made, and the many incredible experiences that it afforded me, but I wish at the time that my school had offered a writing department. It would have been a better fit for me. I did take the optional playwriting classes, where I worked on abysmal experimental theater pieces that I’d be mortified if they ever come back to haunt me!
It was through LACHSA, that I discovered Samuel French Bookshop. It changed my life. My passion for plays was no longer relegated to the single bookcase that most bookstores offered, but now I had an entire store of theatrical books. AN ENTIRE STORE!!!
Samuel French had two locations in Los Angeles. The smaller location was in Studio City and it’s lovely, but the real prize was the Sunset Boulevard location in Hollywood. Both bookstores were located about a twenty minute drive from my house, but asking my mom for a trip to Samuel French, was akin to asking her to drive me to Florida. She hated it. I think worse, she knew that it wasn’t as simple as a quick shop, that she could leave me to browse all day. She would agree to quarterly visits or if I desperately needed something for school ( this was the early/mid 90’s, before online shopping was a thing) and she would wait in the car with a novel, while I had about an hour to shop.
When I had my first car and could drive myself, it was bliss. I would spend hours discovering new playwrights. Samuel French on Sunset blvd was my happy spot. I continued to be a regular customer for many decades and it was a bookstore that not only brought me so much joy, but opened me up to new writers and new worlds.
Learning about the closure, I’m not only sad for what will no longer exist, but I feel guilty. Through changes in my life and reading habits, I have not been a recent customer. I have not visited Samuel French in over five years. One of the reasons that the store is closing, is because more customers are shopping online, they cannot justify a brick and mortar store. The delight of browsing and the thrill of discovery is a unique aspect of physical bookstores. I am using this as a stark reminder, to keep shopping at physical bookstores, to keep spending my money in the stores, rather than online. As much as I love the convenience of online shopping, it simply does not replace the magic of a physical bookstore. Online stores cater to well-known authors, rather than exploring new or lesser known talent. The experience for a book lover does not compare.
Samuel French will continue to exist in other physical locations and online, but it hurts that the Sunset location is closing. It really hurts.