“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies...The man who never reads lives only one.” – George R.R. Martin
Readers rejoice: A book store is returning to Del Mar Highlands Town Center with DIESEL, A Bookstore.
It’s been five years since Barnes & Noble closed after 21 years when the center renovations began, a heartbreaker for both the community and the center owner. Donahue Schriber Realty Group pledged to bring back a book store when the expansion was complete and they are delivering on that promise with DIESEL, a longtime California indie book store that also has a location in Brentwood.
“A bookstore has been the number one request from our customers for a number of years. We are thrilled to have a long-established independent bookstore join the center”, said Patrick Donahue, chairman and CEO of Donahue Schriber Realty Group. “Diesel’s new Del Mar Highlands location will be a great addition to the community.”
Owners John Evans and Allison Reid bring 40 years of experience in the book business, opening their first independent book store in Emeryville in the Bay Area 30 years ago in 1989. On Oct. 28 they will be one of the first tenants to open in the new Collection at Del Mar Highlands Town Center expansion.
Inside the store there will be tall ceilings, wood floors and Evans states the obvious: “There will be a lot of books.” DIESEL will have best sellers and staff recommendations, a children’s book nook in the back of the store and a plethora of art books about design, fashion, music and film. He likes to say his titles cater to readers with a wide variety of interests, from an entertaining Judith Kranz romance to a thought-provoking Julia Kristeva book on French critical theory.
Evans said he is a sucker for community that is desperate for a bookstore, “I really think every community and neighborhood should have an independent book store,” Evans said.
In the independent book store, the shopping experience is personalized by a staff of omnivorous and voracious readers, people who truly love books and can help customers find books they might not even know they want yet.
“It’s aspirational to buy a book,” Evans said. “And reading a book is transformational.”
Evans and Reid have been partners for 35 years and were just married last year. When they opened their first store in 1989, they knew it was what they wanted to do for the rest of their lives. The name DIESEL was the name of the dog next door, after hearing its name called so often they joked about naming their store after it— the name stuck.
Evans said they were passionate about building a bookstore where they would want to shop and a place where they would want to work.
“We wanted it to be the best neighborhood bookstore that you can imagine,” Evans said. It had to be light and happy, aesthetically pleasing, a place where people never felt disappointed or uncomfortable walking into.
“Bookstores are fun and exciting and they’re for the curious, they shouldn’t be heavy or snobbish,” Evans said. “Snobbish is the worst.”
For several years they ran many DIESELs—they opened a store in Oakland in 1994, Malibu in 2004, Brentwood in 2008, and 2010 in Larkspur in Marin County. They were down to one store for three months before they decided to open in Carmel Valley--they were personally sought out by Donahue.
In the United States about 300,000 books are published a year and about another 700,000 are self-published, creating a challenging task for a bookseller. Evans and Reid aim to keep the shelves stocked with a variety of titles that will keep customers satisfied— Reid keeps tabs on the pulse of society, what the trends are, buying from major publishers while Evans keeps an eye on smaller presses and academic publishing houses.
“I look for what’s unique,” said Evans, of his ambitious goal to “keep ideas and experiences in circulation so people can access them when they need them.”
As an example, he talks about a bestseller he read called “The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks, and Giants of the Ocean” by Susan Casey. The book followed surfer Laird Hamilton around the world as he sought out monster waves but also dipped into scientists’ efforts to explain a wave called the soliton, a giant wave that moved forward without a change in form.
“I remember those kinds of things,” he said. So when he came across a book about the soliton, he thought it might be an obscure topic but 70,000 people read “The Wave” and maybe 60,000 were like him, fascinated by the soliton and would be excited to discover that title.
Those are the kinds of ideas he wants to keep in circulation.
Evans believes the number one talent of a bookseller is to be curious. “I think about a lot of things endlessly,” said Evans, a lover of poetry who is interested in science and history but enjoys going on adventures with customers to seek out the book they are looking for and explore their interests.
Within a day he could help someone find a book about grief for someone who has lost their husband or pick out a humor book for a friend in the hospital; he can find birthday gifts for an 80, 40 or 4-year-old; or assist someone interested in coin collecting before turning to help another person asking, “What is a good book about Madagascar? Do you know anything about island biology and geography?”
“It’s interesting,” Evans said. “I only know what I know and I am curious about everything they know so it’s like I’m on this perpetual treasure hunt.”
What he loves most is when customers get talking to each other and make connections and recommendations. Evans believes a bookstore is also a place where a diverse community can come together, “a civil and civic institution,” a place to gather and speak your mind, where you won’t feel judged, where you will feel welcomed and encouraged to be curious and enthusiastic.
“Being together has become a rare event,” Evans said, hoping that DIESEL events will allow people to learn about wide-ranging topics and experience question and answer sessions with visiting authors.
Evans is looking forward to opening the doors in Carmel Valley and filling the space with readers and happy interactions.
“All communities need and deserve to have access to books that feed and nourish them,” said Evans.
“Feed your head and feed your heart while you’re at it,” encouraged Evans, because books bring joy, companionship, discovery and understanding.
He couldn’t help but add a snippet from a poem by William Carlos William: “It is difficult to get the news from poems yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there.”
Learn more about the new DIESEL, including staff recommendations, at dieselbookstore.com.