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Meet Tish Gamez of Sandpiper Books in Torrance

Today we’d like to introduce you to Tish Gamez.

Tish, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I have always wanted to own a bookstore. Not just work in one (I’ve done that too), but own a bookstore. I’m not really sure how that seed came to be planted since no one in my family had ever been self-employed, but I just knew that somehow that was my destiny.

My father was the reader in the family; if he wasn’t working he was reading. Being an orphan from Eastern Europe, my father came to America at age seven partially deaf and completely alone. And it was because of that isolation that books became his companions, his surrogate family. It was in May Alcott’s “Little Women” (one of his favorite books) that my father saw the love of family, where he learned sacrifice, charity, and forgiveness. It was through the love poems of E.E. Cummings that he shared with his first love the affections he had for her. And it was through books that I, as his daughter, was part of his world – part of him, no matter how far from my life he had gone.

Sandpiper Books has been in the South Bay for more than thirty years, and I have been the owner for more than four of those years. Since its “rebirth,” Sandpiper Books now carries new books as well as literary sidelines, greeting cards, and stationery, and hosts dozens of local author events throughout the year. My vision of creating a refuge, a second home, and a bookstore that matches books with readers has been fully realized. The mission at Sandpiper Books is to know you and what you read.

From the beginning, my focus has been to bring in great books the box stores would never think to stock. I handpick every book that goes on our shelves. I don’t rely on trends or industry reports, I know my customers and what they read; and because the Los Angeles area is a bastion of sophisticated readers, my business also depends on them for first-rate book recommendations. One of the best compliments I ever got on the store was from a customer who said, “Tish, when I go to Barnes and Noble I feel like they are telling me what I SHOULD read, when I come here, I find books I WANT to read.” It doesn’t get any better than that. And in a city the size of Los Angeles you can sometimes feel quite alone – swallowed up at times. The neighborhood bookstore is the last great stronghold – a port in the storm; a book: a true companion. And like our motto states: “There is no friend as loyal as a book.”

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
Oh, I’ve had my bumps, and a few smacks and whacks along the way too!

Like I said, I’ve been the owner of Sandpiper Books for four years. I purchased the business from an eighty-two-year-old woman that had some serious physical issues, thus, the store had been neglected in every way possible. “But it has good bones,” I said to myself; “it has potential,” I said to friends and family; so after a year of negotiations, and months of trying to talk myself out of it, I took the leap – and what a leap it has been.

Purchasing a store from an owner who really wasn’t interested in selling (I know, right!), but was being forced into retirement by her family (I learned that after the fact) was far from a smooth transition. I fooled myself into thinking that an older, wiser one than I would be, if nothing else, reasonable. Nope. Wrong again.

Once the sale was complete, lessons learned, wounds licked and healed, the real work began. For eight months, working six days a week, twelve hours a day, I transformed a dusty, dreary, used book depot into a lovely bookshop, a “You’ve Got Mail: Shop Around the Corner” bookshop. (I know Meg and Tom would approve!)

We’d love to hear more about your business.
Sandpiper Books is a new, used, rare, and out-of-print bookstore. We are a general bookstore, so we stock all kinds of subjects. I wouldn’t say we specialize in any one subject (however we sell more children’s books than any other subject), but we are known for our customer service. If we don’t have a particular book you are looking for on hand, we can usually order it new. Sandpiper Books orders from three of the major book distributors in America: Ingram, Baker & Taylor, and Scholastic. We place orders weekly and offer our customers free shipping for orders coming to our store.

What I am most proud of is not only the selection of books Sandpiper carries, or how cozy and well organized the store is, what I am most proud of are the booksellers I have working for me – past and present. All of them, from William, the first employee I hired after reopening the store, with his exceptional knowledge of literature and a work ethic that’s to be admired, to Randal, our newest hire, who brings to Sandpiper, not only her love for books but an authentic love for people. I’m proud to have a young woman like Lauren, who has been with Sandpiper Books for almost three years now; her enthusiasm for books is infectious! When you ask Lauren to recommend a good book, watch out! Prepare yourself to walk out with a bag of books!

I’ve been blessed by people like Ashna, our summer and holiday hire, who has since graduated with a literature from USC and has a brilliant career ahead of her. And Sophia, another summer hire, who left her mark on Sandpiper with her gentle spirit, sharp mind, and her passion for books. And lastly, I’m proud of our publicist Meg Tessensohn, who has taken our store to a whole new level. It’s Meg’s keen eye for detail, her years of bookselling experience, working for Barnes and Noble that has put our little bookshop on the map! I am very proud of our Facebook page, of how we are constantly on the lookout for what’s new and interesting in the world of books; how we share that information with our customers, and it’s Meg who makes that happen every day.

What sets Sandpiper Books apart from other bookstores is the time we take with each customer – both personally and professionally. At Sandpiper Books we aren’t here to sell you a membership, we’re here because we love books and want to share that love with our customers. Not only do we want to know the title you’re looking for, we want to know you.

What were you like growing up?
Hmm, interesting question. I’m the oldest of three, the only one of the three that loved books, so it isn’t too surprising that I made my passion into a vocation. Personality wise, I have always been an introvert – hence, the reader thing.

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  1. Alyce Elliott

    October 7, 2018 at 14:21

    What a wonderful article! Wonderful bookstore! Wonderful bookseller! Reading about Sandpiper Books and seeing these photos makes me wish I didn’t live so far away. However, I’m pleased to have been able to place an order with Sandpiper Books and to know the type of kind, individual service that’s available. Still… how lovely it would be to be able to visit often with both the owner and the bookstore. –Alyce, northern New York state.

    • Tish Adele Gamez

      November 7, 2018 at 06:11

      Alyce, thank you! Thank you for the kind words, they mean so much.

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