October 17, 2019

"Lhooqing for shelter"
Beloved bookstore booted by big Ben Siegel

Written by Ken Leighton

"San Diego Reader" October 17, 2019


Sean Christopher says his Lhooq (pronounced “look”) Books in Carlsbad is one of only about seven independent book stores left in the county, now that market forces have felled such longtime booksellers as Adams Avenue Books, 5th Avenue Books, and 50,000 Books. He says he has over 50,000 new and used books for sale, including "the final hand-typed draft of the Pulp Fiction screenplay with Quentin Tarantino's handwritten notes, a very rare leatherette of Edgar Allen Poe, a hardcover of Catcher in the Rye, and an original printing of Abby Hoffman's Steal This Book." Hidden San Diego called Lhoog Books, a funky shop housed in a small barn built in 1941, "a hidden gem, the best bookstore in all of San Diego by far." (Hidden indeed: it's quite a contrast to the massive new multi-story development currently enveloping downtown Carlsbad. ) The 45-year-old Christopher -- writer, former college adjunct professor, and K-12 teacher -- transformed his bookstore and its adjoining patio into a cultural showcase, a place that regularly hosts lectures, readings, political symposiums, and live music events. "I've had a Cambridge professor give a live lecture on our screen, beamed in from Cambridge," he recalls.

Now, however, Christopher says Lhooq Books is being abruptly killed off, with no notice, no explanation and, in his mind, an outrageous show of disloyalty and unkindness. "I was never once late in my rent," says Christopher, a fourth-generation Carlsbad local who opened the store 12 years ago. "I put myself through grad school as a finish carpenter, so I was able to completely fix this place up. It was nearly condemned when I got here. The roof was leaking and caving in.
I put in a new wood floor. The house next door was unlivable. I fixed them both up on my own time and on my own dime. Today, Christopher lives in the adjacent house with his 10-year-old son. He says the longtime owner of the property, Gene Siegel, was happy both with his initiative and the quality of the improvements. “This was Mr. Siegel's first investment property. He went on to buy like something like 30 other properties. But he was so happy with me he gave me a first offer to buy this place if he should he ever sell it. He gave me his word I would never be asked to leave as long as I paid my rent on time.”

But when it came to words on the page, Christopher discovered his most recent written lease had expired in January. "I asked the property manager where my 2019 and beyond lease was, and they told me it was on the way. There had been delays like this before, because of property manager changes or whatever. There was no reason for concern at the time." Christopher was secure in his belief that the good will he'd built up over the years with Siegel would prevent any surprises. He was wrong. On September 16, he was served with a notice to vacate both the house and the bookstore in 60 days. “I told them immediately there was no possible way, because I already had tickets to be in Europe, dealing with my wife who was getting processed for her naturalization, and if I didn't go then, it could jeopardize years of process. They told me they would send me legal documents and that if I signed them I could stay until January. But even with that, I could not find a new place for the store and a new house in such a short time. By the way, I never got those legal documents."

Christopher says he knew the increasing upscaling of Carlsbad's Village area would likely cost him his home and his store eventually. "My goal was to recoup my expenses, build my brand, and relocate in two to five years if I had to. Now they are telling me I have to move my home and my business of over a decade in a month." The problem, says Christopher, is that Siegel, now in his nineties, has passed control of his properties over to his son Ben Siegel (who happens to be the city manager of San Juan Capistrano). Christopher says he has never met the son, and what's more, he was told by the property manger never to speak to him directly. (Attempts to speak with Ben Siegel for this article were not successful. )

"I've been going in there since it opened," says Janelle Cannon, Carlsbad author/illustrator of children's picture books. "He went through all the struggles with the city of Carlsbad to get all his permits... His store is so unusual compared to the gentrification of the rest of the Village, which is becoming so formulaic. It reminds me of a store you might discover walking the streets of San Franc francisco It's so free form and full of character. I can never walk in there without buying something Cannon says the Evrbottle shop and Village village Rock Shop are some of the only other remaining stores that retain the spirit of old Carlsbad. that bookstore gods away, I won't have much of a reason to go into downtown Carlsbad."

"I'm a lover of books," says Ginny Unanue, who was raised in Carlsbad and taught school there for 38 years. (Christopher was one of her students. "Any bookstore is a big positive to a city. It's very important. I think this is unfair. This young man paid for all the upgrades, he's been a great tenant. I think they ought to give him at least six months." Justin Jachura, who owns Senior Grubby's, a restaurant four blocks west of Lhooq Books on Carlsbad Village Drive, agrees. "It's a sad situation, and it's not even clear why he's being evicted. He's made a name for himself, and he provides a service to a lot of people. I think it would be a courtesy to him to allow him time to find a new place to move his business."

Christopher has launched a GoFundMe campaign to help negotiate possible legal action and/or help cover relocation costs. "I would hate to liquidate my business for pennies on the dollar. You can only carry 30 books at a time, and with the rare books you have to use white gloves and wrap them. It's a time-consuming process. You can't just put a first edition first printing of Kerouac's On The Road in a box for movers."

Category: Lhooq Books in magazines and newspapers | (18 March 2020)