Warwick's of La Jolla Passes Centenary and Looks Forward to Next 100

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The eponymous owners of Warwick’s, the 106-year-old book, gift, and office supply store in La Jolla, California, have run the store for four generations and have no plans to stop. Now a fixture of this affluent beachfront community outside of San Diego, Warwick’s was originally founded in Minnesota in 1896 as a paper goods shop selling books, writing paper, and writing instruments. Founder W.T. Warwick relocated the store to California in the mid-1930s, and, with one other move and several major renovations, it has flourished there.

In 1950, Wynn and Louise Warwick took over. In 1964, Bob and Marian Warwick became the third generation to own the store, and, in 1998, W.T. Warwick’s great granddaughters, Nancy and Cathy Warwick, assumed ownership. Nancy Warwick works in the store full-time, managing the extensive selection of gift items, traditional crafts, and party goods. Cathy works part-time at the store.

The 4,500 square feet of floor space is divided equally between the book department and the stationery/gift department with Adrian Newell serving as head buyer/manager for books, only the third person to hold that position in the past 50 years. Like many of the customers and other staff, Newell has had a long association with Warwick’s, starting there as a bookseller in 1988. She talked to BTW about the store and its relationship to the community.

"We’re fortunate that we are in a sort of cloistered community, and we don’t have chain competition," Newell said. "Within about a two-block radius there are five bookstores. It’s a hard area to get in and out of by car, and people can walk to the bank, grocery store, theater, bookstores, and stay within the village. The people here are well off but it’s not just money, it’s intelligence and education, too. La Jolla has many people connected to the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, the Salk Institute, and universities like the University of California, San Diego. About 40 percent of the books sold are hardcovers. We get to know our customers so well; we can tailor our book selection to our customer base. I have looked through catalogues and selected a book with a particular customer in mind."

Warwick’s has many associations with the La Jolla community and the larger community of independent booksellers. Newell says, "We’re members of the San Diego Booksellers Association, the Southern California Booksellers Associations, and ABA. Of course, we participate in Book Sense -- it’s a good program, much more targeted toward our customers. The Book Sense Bestsellers List gives us a much better picture of bookselling. We post only the Book Sense list and have a wall devoted to the bestsellers, but we do report to the New York Times as well because we want them to have input from independent stores like ours."

This year, for the first time, four area bookstores, including Warwick’s, shared two booths at the San Diego Open Air Book Fair on June 9. Six years ago the store worked in association with a local Jewish community center to launch the first Jewish Book Fair, now an annual event. On June 12, the store was especially pleased when one of its own, author Quincy Troupe, frequent customer and organizer of the Artists on the Cutting Edge series, was named the first official poet laureate of California.

Newell described some of the rewards of her job at Warwick’s: " I don’t really do it for the money -- I can feel good about selling books. I’ve worked for chains, and there is no comparison to working in an indie. We get to make decisions about how to run the store and do what needs to be done, independently. It’s not like any other kind of business."

Warwick’s published a brief store history for its 100th anniversary celebration. It included the following as its last words:

No Plans to Retire

We face the next hundred years of business with a renewed sense of commitment and with no intention of relying on past accomplishments. We are committed to our involvement with Book Sense, and hope to contribute to the future success of not just our own independent survival, but also to the strengthening of independent efforts wherever they are found.

--Nomi Schwartz