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Vroman's Bookstore

An Icon of Pasadena and Southern California

Vroman's Bookstore, Pasadena

Vroman's Bookstore in Pasadena. Los Angeles Almanac Photo.

First, a disclaimer: in 2001, when the Los Angeles Almanac was published in a paperback edition, Vroman’s Bookstore was the first to put copies of our book on their shelves. They have a special place with us. Nonetheless, Vroman’s holds a special place in Pasadena and in Southern California.

Vroman’s is Southern California's oldest independent bookstore. For a long time, it was once also the largest bookstore west of the Mississippi River. Vroman's Bookstore (pronounced like "Roman," but including a "V") was opened in 1894 by Adam Clark Vroman, who had migrated to Pasadena from Illinois in hopes that the climate would help his ailing wife, Esther. Unfortunately, Esther survived only another two years. Broken-hearted, Vroman decided to pour himself and his love of books into opening a bookshop.

Vroman quickly became successful at selling books, but he did much more. He supported the restoration of the old Spanish missions, helped to establish the Southwest Museum and supported the Pasadena Public Library. He was also a recognized photographer, known for his photographs of the American West and respectful images of Native Americans. Along with books and stationary in his store, he also sold photographic equipment.

When Vroman died in 1916, he left his store to long-time employees, descendants of whom still operate the store today.

During World War II, according to the store’s own historical accounts, Vroman’s donated books to Japanese American internees in the Los Angeles area. In 1954, the store moved five blocks from its original location on Colorado Boulevard to where its located today. Until the 1970s, Vroman's held title as being the largest bookstore west of the Mississippi River. In fact, it was reported that, in 1968, it became the first bookstore in the country to adopt a computerized inventory.

In 2008, Vroman’s was named Bookseller of the Year by Publishers Weekly magazine, cited for its community service, customer responsiveness, and fairness to employees. In 2009, the store purchased fellow independent bookseller Book Soup in West Hollywood (opened 1975), after the owner died and the store faced closure.

In 2011, Vroman’s was the setting for a fictional book signing in an episode of TV series “Parks and Recreation” (Season 4, Episode 3). The store, however, is much more famous for its real author signings. It has hosted authors such as Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, as well as Upton Sinclair, Ray Bradbury, Salman Rushdie, Walter Mosely, Barbara Walters, Anne Rice, and Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

Echoing the legacy of it’s founder, “Vroman’s Gives Back” is the store's program that donates a portion of sales to local nonprofits selected by customers, such as local public radio, arts centers and organizations, and programs supporting literacy, the homeless, and animal welfare.

Over the years, Vroman’s has seen national chain competitors move into Pasadena, such as Barnes and Noble, Borders Books & Music, and Crown Books. These stores, however, have all disappeared. Vroman’s Bookstore remains.

Vroman's Bookstore
695 E Colorado Blvd
Pasadena, CA 91101

Also see: 20 Interesting Things About Pasadena

Norma Jean Dougherty at Radioplane Co., 1944