An artifact of an older, smaller, and kinder world, Vroman’s Bookstore is a beloved Pasadena institution, and for good reason. When asked about her tenure at the helm, CEO Allison Hill readily reminisces about the devout patrons who arrive like clockwork for their weekly book clubs, the first dates and subsequent in-store proposals, and the fathers who return yearly, holiday shopping for their growing families. But as Vroman’s keeps one foot planted in the past, the other steps boldly into the future.
When Amazon-driven storms were laying waste to bookstores nationwide, Vroman’s stayed ahead of the curve by expanding and diversifying (today non-book sales make up more than 30 percent of its business). This November, as it enters its 125th year, Vroman’s will push forward once again with the opening of a wine bar in its flagship store called The 1894.
Throughout The 1894, named for the year the Vroman’s first opened, nods to the bookseller’s history are everywhere. A rolling library ladder gives employees access to the tall, well-stocked shelves of wine, and old-world bank lamps light the tables with a warm glow. Chalkboards detail upcoming events alongside quotes pulled from well-known works of literature, and framed photographs of founder Adam Clark Vroman and the store in its early days adorn the walls.
The drink list features varietals unique to California and the Pacific Northwest and beer from local L.A. breweries. If you’re feeling peckish, choose from a selection of charcuterie boards, olive plates, or something from the modest pairing menu with combinations like wine and chocolate or beer and macaroons.
Hill has several events in the works for the new 800-square-foot space, trivia nights and wine tastings among them. Select author signings, a staple of the Vroman’s event calendar, will now start at The 1894 before readers head up to the second floor. For Hill, the wine bar is about continuing the strategic growth that has sustained the store for 125 years.
“The world has changed so much when you talk about brick-and-mortar retail, so we keep enhancing the physical experience for customers so that they have different reasons to come here,” Hill says. “Because if they’re looking to save a few bucks they can buy anything I sell online for less money—I can’t compete with that. But what I can do is create this very valuable, rich experience.”
If you’ve never read a book with a glass of wine in your hand, you’ve been missing out on one of life’s simplest pleasures. There’s a strange alchemical magic that emerges when the two are combined, letting you lose yourself in the world within the pages.
Images: Courtesy Vroman’s Bookstore