by Candi Sary
Arvida Book Company is my local bookstore. Its eclectic décor spans generations of style, pairing unique and edgy artwork with the nostalgic comfort of grandma’s living room. Lantern-like hangings, made of book pages, dangle from the ceiling. Paintings and sculptures by local artists adorn the walls. A turntable near the register plays music from a collection of vintage albums. Tables and shelves are stacked with an impressive variety of new and used books. The children’s section, like an enchanted garden with climbing vines, invites little ones to stay a while.
One Friday morning I stopped in to talk with owners Samantha and Mike Robertson. We sat together in the burgundy and gold wingback chairs near the coffee counter. Tiny blackboards along the wall offered staff beverage picks—Mike suggested a ‘cortado’ while Sam simply underlined ‘black coffee.’ There in the cozy chairs, with a small rounder of classic literature between us, the couple shared their Arvida story. Opening a bookstore in the age of Amazon and during a pandemic takes a lot of courage and heart. Spending time with the Robertsons, it was clear the two have an abundance of both.
When the pandemic hit, Mike lost his job and Sam, a flight attendant, worried about losing shifts. She had always dreamed of opening a business sometime in the future. Given the uncertainty of their current situation, they thought, why not now? and set their eyes on a vacant store in their neighborhood. The big corner building, amidst quaint little shops and restaurants of Old Town Tustin, had only switched hands twice. First it was a hardware store, and for the next twenty years it was Mrs. B’s Consignment Store. Sam and Mike loved bookstores. They even had their engagement photos taken at The Last Bookstore in LA. With a leap of faith, in 2020 the Robertsons transformed that vacant building into Arvida Book Company.
With the help of friends, family, and their two young daughters, Sam and Mike have created a welcoming, comfortable and inspiring atmosphere for the local community. They want Arvida to be more than just a bookstore. Along with author events and several bookclubs, they host a variety of community gatherings. Sam told me how important it is to listen to their customers, tailoring books to local interests, and asking about the needs of the neighborhood. Upon learning that Tustin does not have a community garden, the Robertsons are now involved in making that happen.
I spent a good deal of time in the store that day. Regulars stopped in to say hello and share friendly chatter. A young couple, who plays chess every morning at one of the outdoor tables, peeked in to say goodbye when they left. During our conversation about the author/artist/community events they host, Sam pointed out a petite woman on the couch beside the turntable. It was Sondos Kholaki whose book I’d seen on the local author shelf. The Robertsons introduced me to the writer who was sitting with a friend, a songwriter. The three of us, though very different kinds of writers, found a connection over our shared love for words. We had an inspiring conversation there beside the wall of local art, with the smell of coffee in the air, and a sense of warmth all around the colorful, nurtured space. And I thought to myself, This is no ordinary bookstore experience. This is Sam and Mike’s vision achieved.
I left that Friday afternoon with the latest Sally Rooney novel, a personally signed copy of Sondos’s book, and an overwhelming sense of gratitude that I get to call Arvida Book Company my bookstore.
Candi Sary is the author of the book Black Crow White Lie and the recipient of the Reader Views Literary Award, a CIBA Award, and a first runner-up in the Eric Hoffer Book Award. Her novel with Regal House, Magdalena, will be released in the summer of 2023.