Given the mass closures of bookstore chains around the country, the ubiquity of online sellers like Amazon, and the rise of the e-book, you might laugh in the face of someone who told you their new business idea was to open a huge old school, brick and mortar bookstore in the heart of downtown Los Angeles, of all places. But that’s exactly what Josh Spencer, the subject of delightful short portrait documentary Welcome to The Last Bookstore, did. When filmmaker Chad Howitt stumbled across the bookstore, he had to find out more about the man who had made this unlikely idea into a reality.
“A successful bookstore in the heart of Downtown Los Angeles – it was like seeing a magic trick. I just couldn’t understand how it was possible, so I wanted to find out more about it”
Naming his enterprise “The Last Bookstore”, – a knowing wink to the knife’s edge precariousness of the venture – Josh Spencer’s risk-taking attitude and hard work reaped rewards. The authenticity, quirky personality and design of his used book store touched a nerve within the Los Angeles community. Perhaps people are feeling increasingly alienated in the digital age and looking for a sense of community. Perhaps, as Spencer suggests, real, physical books have become more, rather than less valued, by a certain type of consumer. Whatever the reason, the bookstore has filled a niche and to everyone’s surprise, has been packed with eager customers from day one.
Spencer’s story is even more inspiring because of an additional huge challenge in his life – in 1996, he was in a moped accident and was left paraplegic. Formerly an athlete and lover of the outdoors, he battled depression and estimates it took him a decade to really come to terms with his new reality. Through the bookstore, he has found new meaning in his life. Welcome to The Last Bookstore offers a deeply humanistic portrait of Spencer – we see him as an adoring father to his young daughter, and cracking jokes with his coworkers, but also musing thoughtfully on what exactly has made the bookstore the unexpected success that it is.
Howitt’s documentary will strike a chord with anyone who still likes to hold a physical book in their hands, or anyone who has ever whiled away a few hours discovering hidden gems in a used bookstore. But Welcome to The Last Bookstore is also a powerful, human tale of the struggle to overcome huge challenges, and the importance of pursuing your passion.