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How an L.A. indie bookstore’s GoFundMe inspired a small business lifeline

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by Dorany Pineda at the Los Angeles Times

read on the Los Angeles Times' website

"On a Tuesday morning in September, Raymond Wurwand was in his Southern California home sipping tea and reading the newspaper when he happened upon a story about struggling independent bookstores. The print headline read: “Spine-tingling bookstore woes: Some shops, including Diesel, are turning to fundraising to survive. Shelve 2020 as horror.”

He turned to his wife, Jane Wurwand, and said: “We’ve got to do something.”

In partnership with Pacific Community Ventures and TMC Community Capital, the owners of skin-care company Dermalogica decided to launch Found/L.A. Small Business Recovery Fund, a $1-million grant program to help small minority-owned businesses in Los Angeles County stay open during the pandemic. Among the eligibility requirements: Applicants must own at least 50% of a brick-and-mortar shop, employ fewer than 20 people, and provide evidence of profitability before the pandemic. The Wurwands received 2,430 applications for the first round of grants — from restaurants, salons and cafes as well as gyms, retail stores and day-care centers. Ten were randomly selected. Applications for the second cycle open Jan. 11.

“We built Dermalogica through selling to small salons, so we built our business through selling to small entrepreneurs who have been devastated by COVID-19,” said Jane in a recent Zoom interview. “So as we read the piece, we realized that could’ve been our story, but we’ve been extremely fortunate. Our salons were exactly like Diesel,” she said. Diesel, a Bookstore, with locations in Del Mar and Brentwood, is one of many businesses that have made public pleas for support. “That’s who employs the neighborhood.”

The longtime philanthropists typically offer minority businesses micro-loans through their Wurwand Foundation, but Diesel’s pandemic struggle put into sharp focus the need for direct, no-strings assistance — some small businesses just can’t on any more debt.

Some 7,500 businesses in L.A. have permanently closed since March 1, according to a local economic impact report published by Yelp in September — the largest number of closures in any U.S. metropolitan area. Stores and restaurants represent the bulk of closures, with owners of color disproportionally affected. A university study published in May found that 41% of Black-owned businesses across the country shut down between February and April. The number of shops owned by Latinos, Asians, immigrants and women dropped 32%, 26%, 36% and 25%, respectively.

These closures are what worry Jane Wurwand. “The thing I’m fearful the most of after this is, when we lift our heads and look around our communities and neighborhoods, I think we’re going to see a lot missing, and we have to rebuild our main streets in our neighborhoods because otherwise we just don’t have a point of connection,” she said. “I want to live near the local bookstore and the local salon. I don’t want to live next door to the Amazon warehouse.”

One new beneficiary, Rice and Noodle, has been holding on by a thread this year.

Lunch sales at the tiny Thai and Vietnamese restaurant fell by more than 60% after offices in the area closed. Owner Kwan Chotikulthanachai, 43, was forced to lay off all her employees. She hasn’t been able to pay full rent since May, and she didn’t qualify for Paycheck Protection Program or economic injury disaster loans. Cleaning and sanitizing supplies have added more costs. But with her partner and chef, Son Ongjampa, she’s managed to hang on, her 8-year-old son, Hugo, and 6-month-old baby, Ethan, at her side.

When she found out Monday night via email that she would receive a $5,000 grant, she cried.

“I was so happy,” Chotikulthanachai said tearfully in a phone interview Wednesday. “It’s like I won the lottery.” Hugo joyously jumped and screamed. She called her mother in Thailand — who cried, too.

“I’m working so hard,” she said. “This time has been incredibly difficult, but I cannot give up. I don’t want to close my restaurant.”

Owning a business has been a dream for Chotikulthanachai. She grew up in the restaurant world in Bangkok, where her mother ran her own place. She opened Rice and Noodle in 2018 with the help of family, and hopes someday to hand it down to her son. “I cannot let my family fail with me.”

Adrianna Cruz-Ocampo also sighed with relief this week. The owner of U-Frame-It Gallery, a custom frame shop with locations in Tarzana and North Hollywood, closed her store for four months at the start of the pandemic. Sales dropped up to 50% after movie and television studios shut down, stripping her of a reliable source of revenue. She received PPP and Small Business Administration loans, but the latter money was sent to the wrong person; she doesn’t have the funds, but she’s getting invoiced for payments.

Through it all, she kept her employees on the payroll, building cabinets, tables and other pieces to organize the store while the doors remained closed to the public.

Cruz-Ocampo, 55, kept working, too, despite fears of contracting the virus. She has scleroderma, an autoimmune disease that makes her vulnerable to severe complications from COVID-19.

She screamed.

“I’ve been behind on rent, and this will help me keep my employees,” she said in a phone interview. “This is like a bridge, a lifeline, to get through a very, very hard year. This is a blessing.”

Cruz-Ocampo left Colombia for the U.S. with her family when she was 9. After getting her associate’s degree in business administration from Pierce College, she bought the frame shop in the 1980s with savings and a business loan. She opened a second location in Tarzana in 2000.

“It’s like a Christmas present, a huge Christmas present,” said Cruz-Ocampo. “It makes me feel something good about this Christmas. As bad as it’s been, it’s ending really well.” "

Giving the Gift of Books

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Dear Reader,
The holiday season is upon us!   So, is the pandemic.  We still want to give gifts – the most personal gifts, the most appreciated gifts, the most considerate gifts, and the most value-rich gifts.  Buying locally and buying independently adds value – to the giver, the receiver, and the community. 

Books make great gifts.  Simply true.  This season, more than any other, there are unique challenges as to delivery times; publishers running out of stock; printers not able to keep up with the workload.  We are doing our best to get you the books you want, when you want them.  Please be ready for these delays; the unavailability of titles; and the restrictions on browsing.

We are currently open 10-5 daily for limited browsing.  We limit the number of people who can be in the store to 7 people. Browsing time is limited to 15 minutes and is best done by appointment. 

We are available for phone, email, and web ordering.  We have gift certificates (online & instore), ebooks and streaming audio.  If you have questions about anything please contact us. 

We are trying to maintain the friendly, accessible professionalism you have grown accustomed to.  We are as enthusiastic about your reading as we are of our own.  We are always glad to help you find that right book as a gift, or for your own enjoyment.

Take care of yourself this holiday season.  Stay strong, healthy & well-read!

And thank you so much for your sustaining support of our store, so that we can all read, and share our reading, for many years to come.

Gratefully,
Alison, John & all DIESELfolk

Thank You from DIESEL, A Bookstore

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Dear Reader,

We are thankful for the support that has been shown to the store in myriad ways.  Thankful, too, for still being able to allow people into the store.  We've been careful about the numbers of people in the store and are doing appointments to make things run smoother.

Please give us a call before coming in and we can schedule a 15 minute appointment for you.  This minimizes lines, saves you time, and gives you unharried time in the store.  Of course, DIESEL booksellers will be at the ready with able recommendations for best gifts and finding just the right books.  We are very good at that!

As with many businesses this season, we anticipate shortages on books and distribution delays.  This is why November is the new December, and it's best to get your shopping done early.  We are open 10-6 M-F, and 10-5 Saturday and Sunday.  We are ready, happy to wrap, and working to make the most of these difficult times!

Thanks for your support and encouragement.  We look forward to sharing the wide world of books with you, your family, and friends this season.  It is important to stay in touch with each other.  And books, and bookstores, are two time-honored ways to do just that. 

Gratefully,
Alison, John & all DIESELFolk

Thank You! Help DIESEL, A Bookstore Keep Going ~ Johnny 99 Fund

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Dear Reader,

We want to thank each of you for your support these last 8 months.  It has been so warming, encouraging, and enspiriting to see you, talk with you, and discuss books with you.

We need your help these days, more than ever, and in ways we never anticipated.  Your generous support of our GoFundMe campaign has reached 40% of our goal, to date.  You have kindly bought books online; ordered them online, for pickup and for shipping; bought gift certificates; joined our Libro.fm program for streaming audio from our website; and downloaded ebooks from our website, too.

Your support in these ways has empowered us to not only continue trying to financially stay afloat through these troubling times, but stay strong emotionally and psychologically.  We feel an even greater commitment to, and sense of belonging with, our community of readers and booklovers. 

This month is the launch of two great promotions for booksellers nationwide. November Is The New December is spreading the news that this holiday season will have exceptional challenges precipitating from the Covid epidemic , including problems with paper shortages, distribution and reduced publisher print runs.   In short, the expectation is that many more titles than usual will become unavailable later in the season, so that getting the books you want as gifts may become difficult by December --- so get them now!  And booklovers say: Books Make the Best Gifts!
 
The other promotion is #BoxedOut – which addresses another structural problem in publishing, book culture, and independent bookselling – Amazon and other big box retailers.  Not invested culturally in the values of book culture, they attempt to corner the market of books, as products, and drive out their community-oriented competitors in local markets, putting publishers and independents at vital risk.

#BoxedOut, is asking booklovers to see the big picture of what is happening to book culture, and make sound decisions on behalf of that culture by supporting their local independent bookstores with all of their book-related purchases and gift-giving. 

We are glad and proud that these two separate, but linked, promotions are available this season to encourage us each to vote with our dollars, support the communities we want and need, and spend our money in line with our values.  Voting doesn’t stop on election day!

We also want to thank those in the media and those who have broadcast our situation in an attempt to help us weather this storm.  Thanks for forwarding our emails, links to our GoFundMe, and emailing those you know as well.  And thanks to the newspapers, individuals and book people who have supported us through interviews, podcasts, and articles informing people of ways they can help, and why they should.  Here is some of their work:

LATimes, Wendy Paris
Channel 10 News, Mimi Elkalla
Bookstories, Vik Singh
LATimes, Dorany Pineda
Times of San Diego, Hoe Quach
Skylight Books, Maddie Gobbo
LA Times, Dorany Pineda
The Argonaut, Bliss Bowen
The Argonaut, Bliss Bowen

In Gratitude,

Alison, John & all DIESELfolk

UPDATE: Help DIESEL, A Bookstore Keep Going ~ Johnny 99 Fund +more!

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Dear Reader,

Autumn has arrived!  What a year!

We want to express our gratitude for the overwhelmingly generous response to our GoFundMe campaign.  Begun two and a half weeks ago, we are now over a quarter of the way toward our goal. 

The notes, letters, comments and conversations have been so heartfelt, encouraging, and fortifying – buoying up our spirits.  As you know, we are trying to stay afloat, and the donations are helping that to happen.  We have learned that sharing our GoFundMe as widely as possible, raises awareness and prompts others to help.

In the store, CDC guidelines say we should only have about 7 people in the store at a time.  We know that it can be frustrating, and are grateful to those who thank us every day for respecting the health protocols.  We are open for browsing now, a couple people or a group at a time, for 15 minutes.  Feel free to give us a call to reserve your time. We are sorry for any inconvenience this causes and hope you understand the necessities.

You probably saw the LA Times piece last week, which kindly brought attention to our store’s situation.  This spurred more sharing of the news, and more contributions.  If you are willing to share the LA Times story or our campaign, with your lists, that would be greatly appreciated.  Here is a link to the LA Times article: Brentwood’s DIESEL launches a GoFundMe. This is the link to DIESEL's Go Fund Me.

Again, thanks for all of your support – whether through buying books, donations, or forwarding our story to people you know. 

We are planning to make it through all of this together. Please stay strong, healthy & well-read.

Gratefully,
Alison, John & all DIESELfolk

Help DIESEL, A Bookstore Keep Going ~ Johnny 99 Fund

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Dear Reader,
 

We have always seen our bookselling as an ecology of people, ideas, experiences, places, and conversation.  We are subject to vicissitudes, ups and downs, as part of the wider society and culture, as all of us are.  But Covid-19 has had consequences like no other.

We have tried to weather this storm, with creative reinvention, hard work, and perseverance, as we always have.  We've managed to keep our booksellers afloat financially and with the necessary health care.  But at this point, our stores are foundering. 

We've had wonderful support from our customers: ordering books, buying gift certificates, switching to us for their ebooks and streaming audio.  But it is not enough, given our rent, operating expenses and our publisher debt, to sustain us. 

So we are asking for your support to restore us to a sustainable level, to make it through this taxing time.  We know we are not alone in struggling to survive.  Many independent businesses lack the resources and financial support to make it through this extended challenge.  Many aren't making it, and we hope not to be one of them.

We have resisted this appeal to our wider community but now we are running out of time.  It is either this, or ending our run as a quality independent bookstore.  If there is anything you can do to help to keep us going, it would be greatly appreciated. Please contribute if you can.

If you would please share this Go Fund Me with those you know, far and wide, we may be able to get the support we need.  This is how ecologies work, under strain.  As biologist Robin Wall Kimmerer says "When times are easy and there's plenty to go around, individual species can go it alone. But when conditions are harsh and life is tenuous, it takes a team sworn to reciprocity to keep life going forward."

As Bruce Springsteen says in Johnny 99: "Now judge I got debts no honest man could pay".

We hope to be able to pay our debts, and to keep providing great books and great conversations to our communities for many years to come.  We cherish, and desperately need, your support at this time.

Thanks for all of your support these many years.  May there be many more!

With Gratitude & Respect,
Alison Reid, John Evans & all DIESELfolk

Independent Bookstore Day -- Saturday August 29th!

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Join us for Independent Bookstore Day, Saturday, August 29th, a celebration of local, independent bookstores and their communities. This year, bookstores are celebrating with online events. These online events range from discussions with authors, to drawing classes, to readings.

What is DIESEL doing for Independent Bookstore Day? We'll be giving out prizes with purchases and selling event-exclusive items! (While supplies last.) At our Del Mar location, we'll be giving out limited edition San Diego Book Crawl pins designed by Susie Ghahremani.

Online Events for Independent Bookstore Day

Independent Bookstore Day Exclusive Items For Sale

San Diego Book Crawl

Latest News About DIESEL in Del Mar

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Dear Reader,

We are now open, by appointment and walk-up, for one-at-a-time browsing from 11-4 daily at our bookstore at Del Mar Highlands Town Center! 

You can email or call us (delmar@dieselbookstore.com, (858) 925-7078) to reserve a 20-minute time to browse during those hours, either by yourself or with a small group or family.  You can also just walk up and browse at the store, if no other person or group is currently browsing.  We will require masks to be worn and hand sanitizer used, before entering the store.

We recommend and sell books in person at the door, by phone, online and via email.  You can browse our sections online, by clicking the Browse Del Mar tab. We ship; provide streaming audio online; and sell ebooks through our website, too – the whole shebang!

Have you checked in on our Elevenses events?  They are our daily 11 o'clock events -- publisher reps presenting great new titles; Children's Storytime videos; Ask A Bookseller; and video book reviews by booksellers, and others! They are on Facebook, Crowdcast and our website ~ join the fun! Please come to our website, dieselbookstore.com, for our upcoming, current, and past events.

Thanks to all of you for your support of our store through this strenuous time.   We hope to continue to supply you, your friends and your families with books for beach, school and home for many years to come.

Stay strong, healthy & well-read!
Alison, John & all DIESELfolk

Black Lives Matter

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Dear Reader,

Our letters over the last two months have been focused on the coronavirus.  Now we are dealing with a centuries-old plague that has never been successfully defeated in our country – structural racism.  The video of George Floyd’s death under the hands and knees of three Minneapolis policemen has traumatized a nation not because it is new, but because it is so vividly horrific, pornographic, and obscene that anyone who sees it clearly experiences the cold-eyed, heartless violence that has been visited on black bodies and souls for 500 years.

The passionate outrage by caring human beings throughout the whole country and the world has been, and continues to be, extraordinary.  The success of this massive intention to create a racially just police force and society is yet to be seen. 

Our readers have responded with an increased desire to be better anti-racists, better at transforming our city, state and country to be a more just society.  Enough is enough.  May the protests continue until justice, not structural racist violence, reigns. 

Publishers’ books have gone back to reprint as the desire for these books rises.  We are glad to provide them to you, in times of surging interest, and in times of relative neglect.  We have a list of books at the end of this email.

People have also asked us about other ways that they can help.  Joining peaceful protests is an obvious choice.  Another is to volunteer for organizations; write letters, emails and make calls to elected representatives; and express your outrage and the need for systemic justice to all you know, especially to those more distant intentionally or emotionally from this necessity.

People, more concerned about the dangers of viral exposure that protests may present, have been interested in how to donate.  There are many places to find and assess the efficacy of organizations working toward a just and equitable world.

For us, these organizations have maintained a mostly decades-long commitment to exactly these issues, working in the trenches to improve fatally unjust structures of our society:

Equal Justice Society

Southern Poverty Law Center

Black Lives Matter

The NAACP Legal Defense Fund

The Equal Justice Initiative

There are many others, of course, but these are a few. 

As to books, here are just a few – but really, there are hundreds and thousands of relevant books, depending on what you need to know about; work on; and work toward.  We are always glad to help you on your path to greater knowledge, more commitment, and more effective activism to make our world a better, more just, more compassionate, and more creative place.  You know where to find us.

How to be an Anti-Racist by Ibram X. Kendi

White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo

The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin

Stamped by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi

The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander & Kadir Nelson

Thanks for your support, your curiosity, and your moral outrage.  Stay strong, healthy, well-read and please help to make a more just and equitable world.  It is all of our responsibility.

John, Alison and all DIESELfolk

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