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At 78, this longtime bookseller can't afford to keep her store open -- or live in California

Marisa Gerber, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Business News

ARCADIA, California — "Welcome to the Book Rack," Karen Kropp says, her eyes panning the increasingly sparse shelves inside her bookstore.

"It used to be a lot fuller."

After 40 years — the last half under Kropp's ownership — the beloved used-book store tucked between a hot pot restaurant and a chiropractor's office in Arcadia, a suburb 13 miles northeast of downtown Los Angeles, is closing this week.

Slowed down by the consumer shift to online shopping and further decimated by cratering sales during the pandemic, the shop held on by a thread in the months since Kropp cashed out her life insurance policy to keep it afloat.

"The miracle is coming," Kropp often assured herself. "When you're in a bookstore, you have to be a dreamer."

But the miracle never came, and Kropp, who turns 79 later this year, knew that even if she couldn't really afford to, it was time to retire.

 

She plans to live off her monthly Social Security check — around $1,200 after insurance premiums are deducted — and can't afford to stay in Southern California. Instead, she will move in with her younger sister in Albuquerque once she finishes clearing out the shop.

"I put everything I had into this place," she said. "Everything."

Kropp's situation mirrors those of many aging small-business owners who, unless they have a relative eager to take over, are faced with complex questions about their legacy and finances.

In January, the owner of Vroman's, a historic independent bookstore in Pasadena, announced on Instagram that, as his 80th birthday approached, he planned to retire and sell the shop to someone outside his family.

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