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After 31 Years Of Business, Silver Lake's Circus Of Books Is Closing Today
Circus of Books, that instantly-recognizable bookstore by Sunset Junction, will shutter its doors today, reports The Eastsider.
For people not in-the-know, Circus of Books isn't some indie iteration of Barnes and Noble. The store (and its counterpart in WeHo) has a selection of gay porn and paraphernalia. Goodies include lubricants, performance enhancing supplements, and condoms. Their selection is so formidable, in fact, that LAist had included the store as one of our "Best Sex Toy Shops" in 2014. But Circus of Books was not just a gay book store, owner Barry Mason told LAist. Mason, who's owned the stores for over 30 years with his wife Karen, said that the stores had always been "fifty-fifty gay and straight" and that the perception of the stores as being mostly-gay was one that overshadowed everything.
"That's part of the nostalgia; it was just a friendly place for everyone," said Mason. "Both gay and straight people were here chatting, mingling."
Still, the public perception is there, and the bookstore's repute is unmistakable. "This three-decades-old institution is a well-known cruising spot, whether you're looking for a fun new sex video or a fun new sex partner," Time-Out said of the WeHo location. "Before guys hooked up via apps and watched porn online, there was Circus of Books," said The Eastsider.
So maybe you never went to Circus of Books to get a copy of, say, War and Peace. But the store is undeniable as a local landmark. Motorists coming down the bend on Sunset are greeted with the store's neon-pink letters, the filmy windows, and the subdued overhead lights. In a neighborhood of heedless wheeling and dealing, the store seemed like a time-capsule of a distant past. There was something comforting about that, even if it's a childish inclination to think this way.
The obvious guess would be that Circus of Books has been kicked to the curb by rising rent. But Mason says that "it has nothing to do with the rent" and everything to do with the internet, which has demolished the store's sales. "The business is not here anymore," said Mason. "Everything is on Amazon. And the magazines—so many of them aren't printing anymore. They're all downloadable." Magazines, said Mason, used to account for a large share of the store's sales. In fact, when it first opened, the Silver Lake location was just an office for the store's magazine wholesale operation. The office was in the basement of the building, while a Cuban restaurant occupied the first floor. The restaurant later bailed without a notice, and an intrepid employee of Mason's—a man by the name of Milton—convinced the owners to turn the first floor into a second Circus of Books.
As for how the Masons got into the book-selling business in the first place, Rachel Mason, the couple's daughter, said that her parents had started off as deliverymen for Hustler Magazine. A store in WeHo called "Book Circus" was on their route, and the Masons soon learned that the bookstore was failing because the store owners were "snorting the business up their noses." The couple worked out a deal and bought the place, and the rest was history. The Silver Lake location came later in 1985.
Throughout its years, the Silver Lake store has come to symbolize different things. Today, it seems like a defiant stance against the ethos of gutting and flipping. But in the late 80s it represented a safe haven, not just for gay men, but for the neighborhood in general. "Customers told me that this was the only place in Silver Lake—when it was gang infested—that they could come to at night and feel safe," said Mason. "So a lot of them are emotional about it closing. They feel it's an end of an era."
The store threw a big party in June to celebrate its going-away, and Mason said that customers had been filing in all weekend to reminisce about the bookstore. A documentary about the store is in the works, too.
Mason says he's sad to see it go, but that he's also resigned to the fact. "Everything has its hour and time. And this store has had its 31 years," said Mason. "The time's finally run out." Mason added that, even though the store is closing after today, the doors will remain open tomorrow for whoever wants to drop by and buy some of the leftover items.
And what's moving in to replace the bookstore? "A medical marijuana shop," Mason informed us. So a pot dispensary is replacing a book store that's regarded as a gay landmark? It doesn't get much more L.A. than that.