Friday, January 6, 2012

I wonder if...

...Gerry is as sad as I am about the closing of the Bohdi Tree bookstore?   Walking into the store one last time on December 29th I felt such a sense of loss, almost as if I was taking final leave of an old and treasured friend.

My daughter was home for the Holidays and she and I joined the other mourners (for that's what they were) saying one last goodbye to this warm, fragrant with incense, space where you could escape from the nagging troubles of the world, the traffic on Melrose, or even a quiet, temporary haven from the heat of summer or the chill of winter.

Once through its doors The Bohdi Tree welcomed you to browse its wooden bookcases for treasures on health, diet, mysticism, religion and other spiritual morsels or to quench a thirst for further wisdom that might send you on a quest through its many rooms to sate your curiosity.

I heard the Bohdi Tree was closing almost 9 months ago.  I didn't really believe it though.  Surely someone would reconsider and save it!  The store, which has been in business for 40 years, was a "mecca for seekers of all persuasions" (to quote the L.A. Times) and saw the likes of governors, rock stars, tons of celebrities and normal, everyday armchair philosophers searching for some comfort, better health, a healthier mental approach to their problems, wisdom from the old sages, religious or spiritual guidance or even just to feel the wonderful vibes coming off its walls and share the energy flowing from its patrons, some comfortably ensconced in a corner, sipping herbal tea and engrossed in some meditative passage.

What really got to me in my farewell visit, was seeing all the bare shelves, as people wanted some lasting souvenirs from the hollowed space, lovinglyy touching the books that were left....and reaching for bargains that made you eager to buy, yet sad that this is what it had come to.

If one wanted to look for reasons for the demise of this lovely place, there are many.   In  a conversation with one of the nearby merchants many months ago, I was told that a lot of the land on that particular block had either been bought out by some wealthy investors or was being developed by them and that the leases were either not being renewed or renewed at much higher rents.  One could see establishments closing.   It started back with the loss of Mr. Teas (the former Elixir), that great space with the lighted garden and the tables among the gravel with the fountain in the middle, where you could have a healthy lunch or simply sip tea and have some quiet conversations.   It was a good place for stars and agents to meet and I observed many such meetings on my visits there.  It was the favorite haunt of a screenwriter I met at nearby Urth Caffe and when he would want to meet,  he'd always suggest meeting there.

Funnily enough, back then all the places were having trouble with the parking, thanks to the opening of the club, Villa, one the Muse used to frequent in the past.  Their valet service competed for the few parking spaces in the area and I think that started to take it's toll on some of the merchants.

As for the Bohdi Tree, I think that, as well as the changing nature of the purchasing public and the online outlets such as Amazon, caused their traffic to drop considerably, as a lot of tourists from out of the area who had previously seen this as an attraction they needed to visit, started finding a lot of the same wares online from multiple sources.

A third consideration was the fact that the owners were getting on in years and I think they got tired of fighting the inevitable.   They cited the  the bad economy and need to change the nature of the business by perhaps  adding  some non-book items such as yoga clothing or to set up "live streaming" capacity to feature guest speakers.   But they said they weren't interested in "evolving" and I feel they were right not do so.  If they had succumbed to the lure of modernizing to become more commercially competitive they would have ruined the feel of the space and it might have lost its uniqueness, that feeling that the walls were alive with the energy of all those spiritual seekers from the passing decades that had walked through its door.  We could go somewhere else if we wanted "live streaming" or yoga clothing.   To quote the L.A. Times article, "the Bodhi Tree was like a church for many," but to me its feel was more in keeping with an old world Cathedral rather than a modern, perhaps more austere, house of worship.

So it was that the closing of the Bohdi Tree added a little more to the bittersweet feeling the approaching New Year was giving me.   It was almost as if I was witnessing the passing of an era to make way for something new....and not quite sure if the "new" was going to be better or just "more" of something else there is already too much of.

There are times when less is more beautiful then more.  To me the Bohdi Tree was a little oasis of civilization and, like a lovely old building with its history etched on its walls,  it had a soul.  Yes, buildings, like humans, have souls that speak to us of past grandeurs.  Perhaps that is the reason some cities are more appealing than others and we must seek them out as visitors...because they have proudly preserved their history and made it part of its present charm. Unlike San Francisco,  Los Angeles has been very bad about preservation.  As the wild west and the last frontier, we seem to always grab for the shiny new bauble and discard the jewels with worth.  It's really a pity.

Now if they start messing with *City Lights in North Beach, San Francisco...then I will really cry a bucket of tears.

Songs out of tune, the words always a little wrong...Canzoni Stonate


City Lights original owner, poet Lawrence Furlinghetti is 92 and still very much alive, as the link above will show.   He celebrated the 50th Anniversary of the store by reading poetry...he was in his late 80's then.

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