By now, news of small businesses folding under the pressures of “Big Box” competition, wage issues, real estate costs, and of course, the pandemic, is unfortunately all too common. But when it came to Warwick’s, the iconic bookstore and gift shop in the heart of La Jolla, there was no way the community was going to stand by and watch it disappear.
When the store was in lease negotiations earlier this year, owner Nancy Warwick found out the building her namesake family business resided in was all but lost. “We were truly shocked to learn of the [building’s] pending sale for $8.3 million and that we had just 15 days to make a better offer,” recalls Warwick. “It was a nightmarish time because it appeared that the new buyer intended to force Warwick’s out and repurpose the building, but it ended happily.” Happily, indeed. The agent representing Warwick, Steve Avoyer, leapt into action. He contacted his friend, Jack McGrory, a La Jollan and, coincidentally, a longtime patron of Warwick’s. In a meeting shortly thereafter which lasted, to McGrory’s estimation, a mere 45 minutes, a counter offer was made to purchase the building, Warwick’s had a new, long-term lease, and La Jolla had its 125-year-old bookstore secured for the next generation of readers.
Saving Warwick’s wasn’t an effort of a small few, but rather of a community. Once McGrory and Avoyer made the offer, they went about inviting dozens of investors into the deal. “We made a lot of calls finding all the investors,” says McGrory. “Each investor put in, on average, about $100,000. About 95 percent of the people I talked to wanted to go in. And afterwards, people came up to me and said, ‘Why didn’t you call me? I wanted to be part of that!’”
Avoyer agrees. “The bottom line is that Warwick’s is just such an institution,” he says, noting the customers’ love for the store has created a “soft spot in their heart” cultivated over generations of patronage. “They’ve taken their kids or grandkids to Warwick’s a thousand times, they know Nancy, they know the struggle of independent retailers. There was a lot of very heartening interest from a broad cross section of people from all walks of life.”
The significance of the collaborative effort to save the store — the oldest continuously operated family-owned bookstore in the country — cannot be overstated, especially by its fourth-generation owner. “Our effort to purchase the property would have failed without the support we received from the community,” says Warwick. “I always knew that our historic store was valued, but I never knew the depth of the community attachment. For so many people to show their belief in the importance of the store to the community by investing in the building is the greatest honor we could ever imagine.”
A literal new lease on the store’s life in hand, Warwick says, “The sale of the building to this investor group has inspired me to plan some additional projects, to beautify the store, and to further demonstrate our rootedness and commitment to the community. For example, we are moving forward with the installation of a fantastic mural over our parking lot at the rear of the store. I very much want the community to feel a sense of pride in Warwick’s — as a cultural establishment, a great retail shop, as well as a community marketplace.” A highly anticipated return to the store’s popular in-person author appearances is slated for this fall.
It’s a heartwarming story, yes, but also a cautionary tale of the importance of supporting the local institutions that are the fabric of our community before it’s too late. “We just couldn’t afford to see Warwick’s leave,” says McGrory. “Warwick’s is part of the La Jolla family, you know?” warwicks.com