Despite, or perhaps because of, the surrounding giitz, selling a bookstore on Rodeo Drive isn’t easy. The store isn’t in a neighborhood in the normal sense of the word–or even in a common shopping area for most Angelenos. “We have to make that store a destination,” says John Brancati, vice-president of merchandise. “We’re not Barnes & Noble or Crown. We can’t afford full-page ads in the L.A. Times. We have to determine who are audience is and how we should approach them.”
Thus, Rizzoli advertises aggressively in local tabloids as well as such trendy, glossy magazines as L.A. Style. (In coming months, Rizzoli and L.A. Style will co-sponsor several events.) Rizzoli is also negotiating to provide sponsorship for a local radio program about books.
So far, events have had very specific target audiences. In December, for example, the store held an Architect’s Day, featuring 16 architects, including Frank Gehry, who have either written books or been included in books on architecture. Another event on photography featured Herb Ritts, Tom Biachi and Jim French.
Michael Caine’s autographing party for What’s It All About (Turtle Bay) attracted close to 400 people. Store manager Lisa Robinson, who came from the Rizzoli Bookstore in Williamsburg, Va., hired extra security and valets and arranged for sidewalk permits. The papparazzi turned out in full force and the store received tremendous coverage. The success of the Caine signing has prompted celebrity authors–such as Jackie Collins and Vidal Sassoon–to approach the store for their publication parties.
Robinson emphasizes that the staff of 12–many of whom have been professionally trained in architecture or other Rizzoli specialties–try to give the best service possible to all customers. “We treat every customer as though they’re really special,” says Robinson. “People in this market want to be waited on, but it was the same in Williamsburg.” (The store has plenty of non-celebrities on weekends, a popular time for tourists. For them, in particular, Rizzoli offers an assortment of impulse items.)
Literature is one of the few categories that hasn’t done as well as expected, possibly because the store is relatively close to Dutton’s in Brentwood and Booksoup on Sunset Strip, both known for their extensive literature sections. Still, international music, art and architecture books from Europe and books that have been made into movies are extremely popular.
The Long Road to Rodeo Drive
Rizzoli had been interested in opening a store in the area since the mid-‘SOs, when, with escalating rents and the arrival of Crown discount stores, Beverly Hills’s Brentano’s, Hunter’s and Doubleday shops closed. In the late ’80s, Rizzoli negotiated for a space in One Rodeo Drive, at the comer of Wilshire Boulevard. “Real estate was skyrocketing,” says Brancati, “and we simply couldn’t make a deal.”
Across the street, however, Two Rodeo Drive had been completed, and one space in that new shopping center along Wilshire stood empty for two years. “Being on Wilshire instead of Rodeo Drive put the site at a disadvantage for the fashion people,” says Brancati. “As far as the economic deal, we knew what we could do and they knew what they wanted. The developers were going to have to take a long view on their return.” The two sides were in constant negotiation for nine months after agreeing to a lease. “We’re not going to work for the landlord,” Brancati stresses, adding that booksellers in a bad lease should “go back and renegotiate.”