The economic crunch has put at least a temporary end to the Santa Barbara of children’s hair salons and dog-treat bakeries. Art enthusiasts, literature buffs, and other cultural types have thus eagerly awaited a new wave of cheaper, scrappier, more interesting establishments to fill the void. One of the greenest shoots, to mix the metaphor, is Left Coast Books, newly opened in Old Town Goleta.
A white-walled space one-third occupied by sculpture and two-thirds occupied by industrial shelves packed with books, the store presents an oasis to those longing for the urban literary and artistic shopping experience. For those who would enjoy nothing more than to have a seat on the Mies van der Rohe-type sofa with a copy of the National Design Triennial’s Design Culture Now, a Matthew Barney exhibition catalog, or Edward Tufte’s Envisioning Information, Left Coast Books is home.
The store’s aesthetics and sensibilities are extensions of Simon Taylor’s background and personality. “I’ve actually been longer in America than England, but I can’t seen to get rid of this accent,” explained Taylor, a British expatriate who first put in his years on the East Coast. “In a former life, I was a museum curator and art critic in New York City. Without getting into the gory details, I lost my job. When my girlfriend got a job here in California, I decided to tag along. When my severance pay ran out, I had to turn on my belongings, which was 7,000 books in my own personal library. Now I’m doing this counter-intuitive thing, opening a brick-and-mortar store, which seems, to a lot of people, pretty insane.”
Taylor began his book-dealing career on the Internet, where he’s done a brisk business, selling 25,000 books during the past eight years. Only relatively recently did he consider branching into the physical world. “I used to have a warehouse on the corner of Fairview, and I just happened to wander by this place,” he said. “There’d been a fire in the kitchen. There was an illegal bakery in the back. It was completely gutted; it’s been entirely renovated.”
He considers Left Coast as an art gallery financed by books. “I show very advanced art,” he said, explaining that the first exhibit is from Hong Kong native Shirley Tse, a Guggenheim fellow who teaches at CalArts. “I’m not interested in showing pretty art people can hang above their couch. I want something that’s important and good and a bit avant-garde.” Taylor plans to install a new exhibition every few months, and plans are already in the works for an all-female five-artist show toward the end of November.
Though he compares Santa Barbara’s relationship to Los Angeles as being like New York City’s to the Hamptons, where he once worked as a curator, Taylor finds it much more interesting here, thanks in part to all of the colleges. “There’s a lot of younger people here,” he said. “It’s more of a real place.” Placing a value on “realness” is evident in the Old Town location. “This is a funky, interesting neighborhood,” he said, listing off the working-class people, the small-business vibe, the military-industrial complex hubs up the road, the great restaurants, and his neighbor, the Mercury Lounge, which he calls the hippest bar in town. “It’s true; sometimes contemporary art galleries have been known to gentrify neighborhoods that are a little rough. I feel uncomfortable with that. I’m not here to gentrify. This place is open to anybody. Yesterday I sold a book for $300 to a student from UCSB. I’ve got middle-of-the-road, moderately priced academic books. I’ve got tons of books on one-dollar carts outside the store.”
The rear of the Left Coast Books leads into a large walled garden filled with potential for cultural happenings. “I’m open to doing musical events,” Taylor said. “If there are enterprising people who want to do a film series or a poetry slam or an art show, just come talk to me. I’m here. I’m accessible. I can’t promise anything, but I’m open. I don’t want it to be this pristine cube nobody uses. I’m interested in the community muddle of a bookstore.”
Left Coast Books is located at 5877 Hollister Avenue in Goleta. For more information, visit leftcoastbooks.us.