In a Mysterious Galaxy Not So Very Far Away...

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San Diego's Mysterious Galaxy has issued an invitation to all "fellow lovers of Martians, Murder, Magic, Mayhem, as well as those who devour [the store's] more recent genres of Metro Mythos and Munchkins," to join in a 15th anniversary celebration. The party on Saturday, May 10, will feature author signings, birthday cake, and an auction to benefit local nonprofits.

"We will be having our traditional Birthday Bash," said Maryelizabeth Hart. "And we'll be concluding our Book Mitzvah, which Terry Gilman created to celebrate our 13th (and extended into our 14th) year," for which the store performed good deeds (mitzvahs) for local nonprofits. The final activity for the Book Mitzvah will be collecting book donations and a silent auction for Mysterious Galaxy's nonprofit partners.

"As always, we will be hosting a number of spotlight authors, including Mysterious Galaxy's own Jeff Mariotte, introducing our new green (in multiple senses) canvas bags, and celebrating with cake and refreshments," said Hart. Mysterious Galaxy will also very appropriately begin selling the new Book Sense Dr. Seuss Happy Birthday gift cards, sponsored by Random House Children's Books and Listening Library. Not only do the cards say "Happy Birthday," Dr. Seuss also lived in the San Diego area.

The bookstore, co-owned by Hart, Gilman, and Mariotte, opened on May 8, 1993, with a gala party featuring Ray Bradbury, Robert Crais, and David Brin. "That was a wonderful day, and set the tone for the next 15 years," Hart said. Over the years, the store moved twice and has been in its current 1,800-square-foot location in central San Diego since April 2000.

Mysterious Galaxy has always been heavily involved in hosting community programming in-store, as well as participating in off-site events like the L.A. Times Festival of Books, Comic-Con International San Diego, Men of Mystery in Irvine, and other conferences. Gilman will soon be launching a new program, Ladies, Lunch, and Literacy, in Los Angeles' South Bay. Attendees will have lunch with an author, receive a signed first edition of the author's book, and make a donation to an L.A.-based literacy organization.

At last month's Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, Mysterious Galaxy had a booth and was the bookseller in the Special Sellers area for the panels in the Mystery and Speculative Fiction hall. "We had a grand time with all of our authors," said Hart, "but I think that Joanne Fluke must be singled out for her great tradition of promoting her Hannah Swensen culinary mystery series (Kensington) by bringing lots and lots of chocolate chip cookies, which she shares with readers and the staff." The book with the "most buzz" was Tana French's multiple award-nominee, In the Woods (Penguin), Hart added.

About BookExpo America coming to L.A. at the end of this month, she said, "In terms of our increasing efforts to be green, it's really nice not to be shipping heavy book boxes home from far away, although part of the joy of BEA is getting to visit the other cities." Her top suggestion for visiting booksellers, which she acknowledged was "probably self-evident," was to get out and explore the city, especially its beaches, museums, parks, and Hollywood.

Reflecting back on Mysterious Galaxy's history, Hart said, "There have been 15 years of great moments, and we look forward to many, many more. In particular, the staff and the owners appreciate the strong sales of the past 18 months, and the support of our reading community for a local independent retailer."

Evaluating the current independent bookselling landscape, Gilman noted the outlook at Mysterious Galaxy is "very much the same as the ABA outlook about the current state of independent bookselling," she said. "We also believe that consumers are more aware of shopping locally and supporting independent businesses, especially bookstores. In fact, everyone I talk to in my (new) community in Los Angeles agonizes about the lack of independent bookstores as they reminisce about those that used to thrive in their neighborhoods."

Gilman explained that Mysterious Galaxy has been working hard to position itself for growth in many ways -- by creating an infrastructure with staff and procedures to handle larger sales volumes and events and to create new events within the community to bring greater awareness of the value the store.

"And my last comment is that Mysterious Galaxy would not exist without a dedicated set of owners and staff," said Gilman. "We all do this for 'the love the game,' and not because anyone is making any momentous monetary strides by working as hard as we all do. We all love bookselling, love our customers who appreciate what we do, and love the authors who create worlds we care about and who enhance our reading pleasure by visiting with us at Mysterious Galaxy." --Karen Schechner