By Emily Glory Peters
One of Pasadena’s best kept secrets is its healthy number of exceptional independent bookstores. Book Alley, founded in 1992 and located just a few blocks from Pasadena City College, is no exception—though weathering a quarter century’s worth of business storms hasn’t been an easy ride.
“I got into the book business years and years ago as a part-timer at B. Dalton in Ann Arbor, then came to California in 1995 to manage a store for Borders,” recounts Tom Rogers, current owner of Book Alley. The last few years at Borders were unhappy ones for Rogers—and like other big chain bookstores (R.I.P. Pasadena Barnes & Noble), he soon discerned the end was nigh. But not for Rogers himself.
“In 2004, I learned that Book Alley was for sale by the original founder. I had just enough money to buy it—so I moved into the secondhand and rare book business.”
The shop is aptly named. Much roomier on the inside than you’d think, the bright bookshop stretches back with jam-packed shelves—and when the shelves are full, the floor will do. Rogers regards his inventory of almost 100,000 titles as a well-curated selection that’s tailored towards his readers.
“A lot of used books stores put on the shelves whatever books they happen to acquire and see what happens. We’re more careful than that, and a bit stricter about quality and condition,” he explains. “The majority of our books look as if they haven’t been read—and all of them are in a database, so we can check quickly to see if we have what you’re looking for.”
If you’re in a hurry, you could take that route. But on a Saturday morning, a pleasanter approach would be to visit Book Alley in person and take it all in, shelf-by-shelf. The usual suspects are here—classic literature, the latest in pop culture, children’s titles—but some areas are special (like an entire section devoted to wars ranging from the American Revolution to the conflict in Iraq). Rare books are also available and there’s a beautiful array of prints and artwork—a testament to Rogers’ personal love of art and photography.
As go the tales of other indie bookstores we’ve covered in Pasadena (like The Battery, Century Books and Whitmore Rare Books), Rogers stresses the importance of online sales in an era of waning foot traffic. Still, Book Alley is one of Southern California’s fast-growing bookstores, a self-proclaimed rare feat in 2019. And in the center of it sits Tom Rogers, purveyor of what he refers to on his website as “old-fashioned bookselling” of physical books.
“Kindles have a place, especially if you want to read in a darkened room without disturbing anyone else,” he says. “But the act of reading a physical is a deeper experience than reading an electronic one. There’s just something ‘wrong’ about houses that don’t have books in them—I feel the same way about towns and bookstores.”
Luckily for us, as long as people continue to support independent shops like Book Alley, that’s not something Pasadena has to worry about.
Book Alley is located at 1252 E. Colorado Blvd. in Pasadena. To learn more about their impressive collection, contact Tom and the Book Alley team at www.bookalley.com | (626) 683-8083 and follow along on Facebook and Instagram @bookalley.