The Book Loft in Solvang is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, and that’s very good news for those who crave sanity, authenticity, and steadiness. Founded by Kathy Mullins and her late husband, Gary, in 1970, it is the oldest independent bookstore in Santa Barbara County under continuous ownership, replete with new releases, rare books, a bountiful children’s section, and an impressive assortment of puzzles and games. Kathy is still very much involved, and the rest of the all-women team ― Elaine, Echo, Dawn, Paige, Heidi, Ali, and Heather ― are knowledgeable and helpful, the kind of folks who are sincerely happy to assist you or leave you to your browsing, all in a safe masked way that adheres to COVID protocols. It’s a veritable house for the human spirit, where thoughts both great and frivolous line the shelves, a sacred space in our beautiful Valley, well-known by locals and appreciated by tourists, still going strong after 50 years. It even smells like a bookstore, that elusive fusion of paper, print, and wood.
When I began frequenting the Book Loft, Tom Gerald and Ed Gregory worked there. I might walk in and see Father Chuck Stacy leaning at the counter, his bicycle propped outside the door, and I’d briefly join a conversation and then go hunt for books, and it was so small-town and charming that I breathed a sigh of wonder and relief at having somehow found such a place. Bibliophile Ed still owns the intriguing Solvang Book Company on the second floor, which sells used, rare, and antiquarian books. Adjacent to that is the tiny Hans Christian Andersen Museum, dedicated to the Danish storyteller whose tales are beloved throughout the world, and I suppose you could call the setup quirky, but it works. Something about climbing the stairs to the area above the main part of the store feels secret and special. There is a wood-floored room with folding chairs, narrow windows, and a podium, and in pre-pandemic days, people gathered there, sometimes for various meetings, but more often than not for readings by local poets and authors. It was always a little stuffy, and it smelled like the 19th century, and the late-afternoon sunlight slanted in and imparted it with a sort of holiness, but at the same time it was intimate and friendly.
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In the ensuing years, the Book Loft has responded to changing buying habits and the challenges of the pandemic with determination and creativity, and despite obstacles, its heart and energy are intact. “We are fortunate to have a wonderfully loyal customer base,” says manager Echo Molina. “We have our locals of course, but also those who live elsewhere, who have made a point to still buy books from us even if they are unable to get here in person. We have filled more email and phone orders than ever before. We have also partnered with Bookshop.org and libro.fm.”
Real-world customers are welcome in a safe, COVID-savvy way. A yearlong series of commemorative events have already begun, and an official anniversary celebration will be held on Saturday, November 21, coinciding with the bookstore’s annual Holiday Open House. The event will include giveaways, special guests, music, activities for the young and old, and of course kransekage, the traditional Danish celebratory confection.
Much has changed across the decades, but the Book Loft has never lost its soul or sense of purpose. It has been here for our community for 50 years, and it is an institution worth celebrating, protecting, and supporting.
The Book Loft is located at 1680 Mission Drive in Solvang. Reach them at (805) 688-6010.