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RIP Cliff's Books, musty, messy, melancholy, marvelous

by John Rabe | Off-Ramp®

The stacks at Cliff's Books in Pasadena are pretty well picked over by Tuesday afternoon. Hardcovers were going for $1, paperbacks ten for a dollar. John Rabe

Cliff's Books in Pasadena closed at the end of business this Thursday.

Cliff’s truly stood alone. In fact other spots on East Colorado between Garfield and Oak Knoll avenues had long since fallen away or moved or found themselves replaced by more modern — if sterile — store fronts. And today many of the trendy restaurants and shops in the neighborhood would probably call the cops on the assortment of oddballs, freaks and cigarette smokers that used to wander the eastern boulevard around the Pasadena Playhouse.

Think about Cliff’s. It outlasted Thrifty, White Hut, Bungalow News, Nardi’s, a couple of other used bookstores and a proprietor or two of the venerable playhouse itself. Somehow Cliff’s with its funky smells, its dust mites, its lack of light, its low ceilings and its less-than-organized layout managed to stay in business even as Vroman’s expanded and grew, Target moved into the neighborhood and the empty lot that was kitty corner to Cliff’s filled with apartments and upscale eateries. That’s a tribute to something. Right?

-- Frank Girardot, Pasadena Star-News

Cliff Gildart, an 81-year old former probation officer, opened Cliff's in 1986, told Off-Ramp that he was inspired to do so, to some extent, when he learned that the chances of someone shooting a gun during a holdup was directly related to their level of literacy. The better read, the less violent they were.

John Rabe went in for a last haul, and came out with a stack of sci-fi anthologies and a signed (!) Lowell Thomas memoir. He also interviewed a longtime clerk, Jerry Lang, who mostly blamed the Internet; David Kipen of Libros Schmibros and Take Two, who mostly blamed Cliff’s old-fashioned business practices; and Cliff himself, Cliff Gildart, the former probation officer who opened the place in 1986 and who mostly blamed parking pirates for the closing.

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