How do you celebrate six decades in the antiquarian book business in downtown L.A.? With a four-piece jazz band and Nutella crepes. This week my father, Leonard Bernstein, was honored for carrying on a family tradition even while the digital age encroaches from all sides. The shop his parents started on Grand Avenue on May 15, 1954, is still chugging along—still filled with rare volumes dating back to the 1500s as well as fine art and ephemera—thanks to my dad’s passion for the written word and for sharing a world of ideas with anyone who walks through his door. Though he has a famous name, his unassuming nature would have been content letting this milestone pass unrecognized. Sorry, Dad. Rising Realty Partners, owners of the historic PacMutual building he’s in, hosted a rooftop reception that drew longtime customers and collectors for generous champagne toasts. To another 60 years!
For me, the Caravan Book Store has always been a second home. In its first location across the street (for a mere 26 years) and now in its current spot, the business has been a cozy retreat: narrow aisles, hand-lettered signs, clocks that still have to be wound. The store is where I napped as an infant, did my homework after school, filled out my college applications, and met first dates. The voracious reading habit I picked up there led me into journalism; sweeping the floor and washing the glass display cases…well, I’m sure those skills will last a lifetime, too.
Over the years my dad has given the same attention to celebrity browsers (Sting, Dustin Hoffman, Jodie Foster, Michael Keaton) as he has to down-on-their-luck street artists and war vets he has befriended. He continues to specialize in categories my grandparents established—early L.A., California and the West, food and wine—and has expanded the stock to reflect his interests, such as maritime history and Abraham Lincoln. He has so many stories to tell, before you know it, the past and the present seem to converge. My brother (Jeremy), sister (Rachel), brother-in-law (Richard), and I enjoy those moments as we help behind the scenes today. KCRW captured Dad’s character and sentiments spot-on this week. You can even hear the squeak of his old wooden chair. Congratulations, Dad. You’ve made us all proud.