The Book Den is “the bookstore everyone loves” and you can show your love during the month of April, as Book Den owner, Eric Kelley is celebrating his 35th year as head ‘Denizen’ of Santa Barbara’s downtown bookstore that stocks new, used collectible and hard-to-find. It’s also California’s “oldest used book store” – now 112 years old. Cruise into the long-narrow store with that special ‘book’ aroma and you’ll also find brand new books – hardback and paper – to choose from in the inventory and people who know their stock & trade to help you find the perfect book.

Taking over the store in 1979, Kelley has ridden the highs and lows of the book market through it all – from the big bookstore chains to the internet and back – The Book Den survived. No small feat considering the tsunami of competition. In 2010, when big box bookstores failed, it made The Book Den the largest bookstore downtown. Kelley actively added new books to the inventory. Now the store sells an equal amount of old and new books. “It’s around 50/50,” said Kelley. “I’m so glad to still be in business 35 years later and really want to let everyone in town know we stock the latest best-sellers now as well as new books in paperback.” Kelley noted, “Under 10% of all books sold are sold in independent bookstores like this” – given those odds it’s even more impressive and a testament to his tenacity The Book Den is still serving book fans.

Kelley, Carrie Lauer, Joaquin Gray and Michael Moore are the ‘denizens’ who bring more than 100 years of experience to the fore and have a deep fondness for literature that’s infectious. You can find out-of-print books here as well. They know their stock & trade well. Among the most expensive books the store has sold are an older copy of “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” by James Joyce with an inscription to Sylvia Beach, ( published by Shakespeare & Co. that sold for $5K. And on the other side of the literary aisle, a Charles Bukowski tome “Hot Water Music” with an original painting by Bukowski bound in, which fetched $3,000. Kelley noted, “Currently the highest priced books on our shelves include “North American Indians: Being Letter and Notes on Their Manners, Customs, and Conditions” by George Catlin for $2,500; a signed copy of Edward Ruscha’s “Every Building on the Sunset Strip” for $2,000; a first edition of “Blood Meridian” by Cormac McCarthy at $1,750; and, “Colored Cadet at West Point: the Autobiography of Lieutenant Henry Ossian Flipper,” for $1,500. Flipper was the first black cadet ever admitted to West Point.” Makes for quite an eclectic selection from Indians, to the Sunset Strip to West Point.

The bookstore opened in 1902 in Oakland, by two brothers Ernest and Thomas Angel who later went out of business and the store was taken over by Clarence Fellows Rowell who died in 1926 his early 40s. Rowell was a recent graduate of the University of California where his father was the university’s first librarian. (Books ran in their blood.) Max Clemens Richter purchased the store and since his family owned considerable property in Santa Barbara, he decided to move the store here in 1933. A Sunday News-Press article from February 19, 1933 noted 40 tons of books were being moved into the ground floor of the Odd Fellows building – the same building it occupies today (just next door to the original location). Richter passed away in 1973 at the age of 89 and his son sold the business the next year. New owners Richard & Susan Phelps, splitting their time between here and the East Coast, opened The Book Den East on Martha’s Vineyard. With the seasonal nature of Martha’s Vineyard, they spent winters here and summers in Massachusetts. Then in 1979, the Phelps’ decided to focus on the East coast store. So it was on April 1, 1979 that Eric Kelley and his business partner Michael Isador took over and about four years into the business Isador sold his share to Kelley. Bringing us to the present.

To read the full history go to:

The Book Den will be part of First Thursday on April 3, from 5 – 8 pm put on by the Downtown Organization. We invite you to join us and discover why the oldest used bookstore in California is still around and why it is “the bookstore everyone loves” – it’s the people who make the store special.


The Book Den

15 East Anapamu Street

Santa Barbara, CA 93101



Mon-Sat 10a – 6p; Sun. 12-5 pm

New, used & out-of-print

Santa Barbara’s Downtown Bookstore

Established 1902

California’s Oldest Used Bookstore


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