Desert Companion

Book Story

As the Writer’s Block prepares to open later this month, we look back at an earlier chapter of the valley’s indie book-seller story

Danny and Robin Greenspun each had an idea about the kind of store they wanted to hang out in. Robin wanted an art gallery that also served cappuccino and light fare. Danny wanted a really cool bookstore. They settled for both, then hired me.

Opening in 1988, the Culture Dog Bookstore & Moira James Gallery was ahead of its time. Located in a new strip mall in Green Valley, the bookstore occupied most of the downstairs, while the gallery was upstairs. Handmade wooden shelves filled two large open rooms, and the entire space was well-illuminated both by natural sunlight and well-designed fixtures. To simply refer to it as an independent bookstore would be an injustice. It was an experience — particularly in a valley otherwise served by uninspiring chain bookstores.

Danny kept Culture Dog stocked with the best in current literature and classic fiction. Robin’s passions were also reflected, and the arts and cooking sections were unparalleled. Patrons could while away the day sipping beverages and reading in the many corners and nooks, while children were treated to an entire treehouse area devoted to early readers. As an employee, I took pride in my ability to hold most of the store’s inventory in my head (from having personally moved every damn book in the store at some point). I delighted in asking “important people” — local celebrities — what they read, and then making recommendations.

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Alas, Culture Dog became short-lived when the Review-Journal and the Sun entered into a joint operating agreement in 1989, and Danny was needed to attend to this transition at the media company his father founded. Without his attention, Robin closed the store in 1990. It really wasn’t about the money (though Danny was known to admit that he couldn’t match the discounts at the big-box store down the street).

A brief moment of place in a constantly shifting town, Culture Dog is definitely a beloved addition to any conversation about book-selling in Las Vegas. 

Likewise, the Reading Room at Mandalay Bay. I worked there, too. Tucked away in a corner next to some escalators, it was the brainchild of Glenn Schaeffer, a Mandalay executive who wanted to add real culture to the usual Strip retail fare. The store was small but excellent. The contemporary fiction section had something for everyone. The manager let employees make suggestions, and each of us had our specialties. Mine was gaming and Nevada history; I was especially proud of my one little bookshelf dedicated to poker. Local and national book-signings were constant.

When Schaeffer left the company, the store fell prey to the bean counters. Since 2009, the space that held the only independent bookseller on the Strip has been a frozen yogurt shop. Ah, progress.
 

Editor’s note: The new Writer’s Block, now located in The Lucy complex at Bonneville Avenue and Sixth Street, opens its events space early this month, with the bookstore to follow a few weeks later.

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