The first sight upon entering Hennessey + Ingalls’ newly christened downtown premises is rows upon rows of art and architecture books filling over 5,000 square feet of the building’s a light-filled open floor plan; a place where one can easily spend hours extending into the entire whole day, browsing through a selection of over 50,000 in-store titles. The staff is knowledgeable, willing to guide visitors through the stacks of beautifully organized and pristinely kept editions of art books on-site, or else to direct them to the treasure trove of art and architecture knowledge around Los Angeles, from university libraries to obscure archives.
Despite a wide selection of tomes, the bookstore is still intimate enough to find its owner, Brett Hennessey, sitting in the backroom and surrounded by snapshots of his family placed on his desk. These family portraits underscore the rarity that is Hennessey + Ingalls: it is one of the few surviving family-owned and operated bookstores in Los Angeles, a diminishing lot in today’s landscape of large corporations, retail chains, and online suppliers.
The bookstore was founded in 1963 by Reginald Hennessey, who was originally employed as a librarian for major universities. As Reginald acquired books for university collections, he also sought out books for himself. After his personal collection outgrew his home, he and his wife created a mail-order-catalogue business which transitioned into a retail storefront focusing on rare and out-of-print architecture books. Since then the bookstore has been passed down into the hands of Reginald’s son, Mark, and now his grandson, Brett. Today it is the largest art, architecture, and design bookstore in the western United States and known throughout the city as being the go-to place for anyone with even the slightest interest in the visual arts, whether they be art industry professionals at architectural firms, galleries, and museums, or artists, designers or students. Hennessey + Ingalls often supplies other art resources around Los Angeles, from blue-chip galleries to arts-focused libraries, thanks to the depth and breadth of its inventory. Speaking with Brett about the history of the company, it is clear that he is proud to have kept the family business, and its legacy, alive.
Keeping the bookstore afloat after 50+ years was not an easy task especially given the tides of e-commerce, globalization, and instability in the retail market over the past decades. Brett successfully navigated the family operation through major transitions including the 2008 recession—during which art and architecture books, such as dense volumes on art theory, history, and semiotics, or artist monographs adorning the coffee table, were among the first luxury items to go—as well as the proliferation of e-commerce, magnified by the dominance of Amazon, which shuttered bookstores across America including, infamously, Borders. In an effort to confront these seismic changes, Brett oversaw the online expansion of Hennessey + Ingalls, computerizing the entire system and creating a much-needed online presence. However, his efforts were not enough to stem these changes completely; in 2015, under the pressure of rising rent due, in part, to gentrification and the housing crisis in Los Angeles, Hennessey + Ingalls was forced to move out from its storied Santa Monica premises on 3rd Street Promenade. As one of the last vestiges of a bygone Santa Monica, filled with mom-and-pop businesses and quirky new age stores, oozing charm and hippie vibes, the closure of the much-beloved bookstore marked the end of an era. The difficulties faced by businesses like Hennessey + Ingalls highlights the multifaceted role that local bookstores occupy— as both a retail space but also, and perhaps more importantly, as a community space. Bookstores, along with coffee shops, bars, and barbershops, are often the cornerstone businesses of any thriving neighborhood. Places like these are considered to be “third places,” a term coined by sociologist Ray Oldenburg in his influential 1991 book, The Great Good Place. According to Oldenburg, if home was the ‘first’ place and work the ‘second,’ then public spaces—such as cafes, coffee shops, bookstores, bars, and hair salons—were deemed ‘third places,’ which are “inclusively sociable, offering both the basis of community and the celebration of it.” Third places are vital because they offer a space in which to gather and build a community among the city’s inhabitants, anchoring the social networks, local economies, and civic life of any given area. Their value goes far beyond their economic contribution of the goods they happen to be selling—they also create social value, too. Not only do bookstores such as Hennessey + Ingalls provide opportunities for meeting others, discussion, and learning, but they also create an implicit sense of trust and camaraderie in the neighborhood as a whole.
These abstract and more qualitative contributions of local businesses often go unrecognized, as the world of commerce is grounded only in the concrete numbers of quantitative sales and profits. Amazon is a prime example of this quantitative approach: it famously outprices its competitors, offering free or close-to-free next day shipping, thus gaining a near monopoly on pricing in the process. What customers gain when shopping according to convenience they lose in the communal fabric, not to mention the social and economic well-being, of their local neighborhood. As Brett Hennessey states, “We know that more and more business is turning to online sales and we are doing our best to adapt, but we still need the community to find value in brick-and-mortar and family-owned businesses.” One can’t help but start to consider the ways in which financial support can translate outside of the economic realm, and reconsider the way in which local bookstores such as his are valued.
Hennessey + Ingalls can today be found in the newly constructed mixed-used complex in Downtown L.A,One Santa Fe, designed by high-profile architect Michael Matzlan. Catered to the new creative class and featuring studio apartments, upscale restaurants, clothing boutiques, and trendy cafes like Café Gratitude, the complex advertises to prospective tenants “the opportunity to live and play in the heart of Downtown LA’s eclectic Arts District.” A few blocks away is one of Downtown’s hotspots: the Art District, which includes the presence of mega-gallery Hauser & Wirth, lifestyle shop Poketo, and Angel City Brewery among its locales. What the bookstore lost in both square footage and foot traffic at their Santa Monica location they make up for in intimacy and warmth at their new Downtown one. Though the area is still undergoing development, Hennessey + Ingalls plays a major part in supporting a hub at their new location, creating even more community value than ever before.
300 S Santa Fe Ave M
90013 Los Angeles, CA, Stati Uniti