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Irene Coray, owner of Kultura Books on Ocean Park Boulevard, organizes books for packaging on Monday afternoon. The bookstore will be closing up shop on July 20th and moving back to Washington D.C. (photo by Brandon Wise)

SUNSET PARK — Husband-and-wife team Andrew MacDonald and Irene Coray decided to take a risk — pack up their highly successful 17-year-old bookstore in the middle of bustling Dupont Circle and take their chances in Santa Monica where the people are well-read but the weather is more inviting.

They figured that even at a 50 percent loss in sales from the Washington D.C. store, the change in atmosphere would be well worth the move.

Three years later, the owners of KULTURAs Books on Ocean Park Boulevard are preparing to head back to where it all started, a result of a more than anticipated dramatic decline in revenue.

“We never thought it would be this bad,” Coray said. “We expected less but it turned out to be a quarter, if (that much).”

Last week a sign was posted on the window of the bookstore, informing customers that it was moving back to Washington D.C., hoping to recapture the success it experienced in past years.

MacDonald was packing boxes on a recent Thursday afternoon in preparation for the closing next month. The store was void of any other activity or sound, except for the flamenco music of Camaron de la Isla playing in the background.

“Everyone got uprooted three years ago and we’re all kind of settling our roots,” he said. “On one level, we feel extremely at home here but I think we kind of worked our way into a perfect storm in that in 2007, the economy started to tank.

“We are now living in … L.A., which probably has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country outside of Detroit.”

Then a manager for the famed Second Story Books in Washington D.C., MacDonald and Coray, a Chilean native who was a translator and fact checker for the Brookings Institution, married in 1988, opening KULTURAs a year later. They have two children.

It was the perfect location for a used bookstore, enjoying the foot traffic off the subway stop and taking advantage of the specialized clientele that D.C. had to offer.

“D.C. is an information town,” MacDonald said. “It’s full of think tanks and there are seven or eight universities that are within a couple of miles.”

In 2006, the couple toyed with the idea of moving the business to Santa Monica where they had visited numerous times on previous vacations, looking for something new. They eyed the city for its likeness in community demographics and scale.

There was also the attraction in being close to the ocean.

In early 2007, KULTURAs opened on the corner of 17th Street and Ocean Park Boulevard and within three months, Coray said she could sense the difference.

“If we made our bare minimum that we needed to survive by December, it would be a freaking miracle,” she said.

The couple chalked the problems to the lack of pedestrian flow on the street and decided to open a second location on Fourth Street in Downtown that summer, choosing a place where the foot traffic would be plentiful.

It was, but the new location didn’t provide any solutions.

“On a Saturday morning, we would count 100 people that would walk by in an hour, but a few people walked inside,” she said.

The Downtown store closed within a few months and the couple decided to focus their attention on Ocean Park Boulevard.

There are several reasons the couple point to when asked about why the book store didn’t enjoy the success of its East Coast counterpart, including the writer’s strike, the recession and what they believe is an emphasis on the outdoor lifestyle of Southern California.

“In the East Coast cities, the weather is such that there is a natural instinct for gathering nuts for the winter and hiding away in the summer heat,” MacDonald said. “If you go to New York subway, everyone is reading, well they’re either sleeping or reading.

“Here everyone is in the cars and there’s no time to read.”

They also spoke of the media’s emphasis on the closing of independent bookstores in the Los Angeles area, adding that there wasn’t enough focus on promoting those that currently exist. KULTURAs is one of the few remaining in the area.

On Thursday afternoon, frequent customer Leesa Woods stopped by to trade in some old books for store credit. Up until a year ago she frequently came to the book store to meet her daughter, a student at John Adams Middle School, after school. The visits decreased after her daughter graduated.

Her favorite find at the book store is one written by Sir Isaac Newton.

Woods said she was disappointed to see the closing notice on the door.

“I like the bookstore being here,” she said. “I like that I can stroll here after getting a coffee across the street.”

As they pack up their 25,000-book collection, the owners reflect on their stay in the city, saying that while times might have been tough with the business, they liked their customers and enjoyed living nearby in the Pacific Palisades.

They have yet to find a new location in Washington D.C. but hope to reopen somewhere in the Dupont circle neighborhood.

“It’s a beautiful place but it’s been the best of times and worst of times,” Coray said. “Everything is not about money, but you do need to eat and pay off insurance and things like that.”

melodyh@smdp.com

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