By Matthew Gilson
ContributorIn 1896, W.T. Warwick opened a traditional stationery store in Mankato, Minn. He named it Warwick’s, and he sold everything from books to wallpaper. There was just one problem.
“He didn’t like the weather in Minnesota,” says his great-granddaughter, Nancy Warwick.
By the 1930s, W.T. had relocated to the milder climate of La Jolla. He brought Warwick’s with him - and it’s been here ever since.
The store has expanded over the years - it has around 40 employees now. But its basic premise has stayed the same: a hearty combination of books and paper goods (stationery, wrapping supplies, etc.).
All in the familyThe reins have been passed through four generations: from W.T. to his son, Wynn; from Wynn to his son, Bob; and from Bob to his daughter, Nancy, the current owner.
“I really grew up with a strong sense of a family business,” says Nancy. “There’s something about this store - it’s part of my blood.”
And after roughly 11 decades in La Jolla, Warwick’s is a part of the community’s blood, too.
“We have customers who are in the store five days a week,” says Nancy. “I still have customers tell me very affectionate stories about my grandma or my dad.”
Books and friendsPrimary book buyer Adrian Newell, who has worked at Warwick’s for about 20 years, has seen first-hand the relationships that can be forged. “After a while, it really becomes personal,” says Newell. “It starts with books and branches out to other things.”
Both Nancy and Newell remember a few particularly unique customers. A lady named Paula, who would use the store’s Xerox machine, always wore white stiletto heals and a cowboy hat.
“She was a pilot in World War II,” says Nancy.
“I think she was a model, too,” says Newell.
Sage adviceBuzzie Bavasi, who served as general manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres at various points in his lengthy baseball career and died last May at 93, used to come in almost daily.
“He would usually distribute a fistful of candy bars,” says Newell. “And then he would regale us with all these baseball stories. He was such a fixture, so beloved by everyone.”
When Bavasi visited, he would always give the same advice: “Don’t ever get old.”
That’s the challenge - maintaining those deep-set roots while also remaining viable today.
All about communityIn her time at the store’s helm, Nancy has stressed the importance of community outreach. One method has been an ongoing series of author events. The list of guest authors seems more fit for the Tonight Show than a neighborhood bookstore: Margaret Thatcher, Jimmy Carter, Amy Tan, Colin Powell, Hillary Clinton, Cal Ripken, Jr., John McCain, and many more.
And there’s a story from nearly every one. Jerry Lee Lewis left his John Hancock in the employee restroom. Colin Powell wanted to set the record for most books signed - and he did, setting the bar at about 950.
Nancy doesn’t know what’s in store for Warwick’s in the future. She and her husband have a 13-year-old son, but she says she doesn’t want him to feel pressured to inherit the family business.
“Right now, I’m focused on the immediate next two years and on holding the staff together in this economic time,” says Nancy.