Sometimes it pays to be old school, noted Dennis Wills, longtime owner of brick-and-mortar D.G. Wills Bookstore at 7461 Girard Ave.
Wills is holding his own during the pandemic, pointing out some of his book racks, which have always been outside, are hot sellers now. “We have 1,000 books in our driveway for one dollar apiece and people are hanging out and looking through those books there in the open space,” he noted. “We’re selling more books outside because of this (COVID). And it’s helped inside because we’re pruning things that have been on the shelves too long. We’re constantly putting new books out there. It’s just been a happy course alteration, adaptation. It’s been a lucky break.”
Like many other businesses, Wills’ inside operations have been severely restricted.
“We’re here on a limited basis,” he said. “We have hand sanitizer at the front door. We even have masks for those who don’t have them.”
Wills is presently benefiting from two things: The seasonal migration of Arizonans and public libraries being closed due to the virus.
“On rare occasion, we’ll get someone from Arizona striding in here wearing no mask and not wanting to use hand sanitizer saying it’s a hoax,” Wills noted. “But the great majority of Arizonans have been courteous, wear masks, and ask for hand sanitizer when they’re in the store.”
Added Wills, “We even have some of the same people come in every year from Arizona and from cold-weather places like Chicago and Minnesota in January through March.”
Wills is dealing with the operating changes COVID has wrought.
“The store is not open for free browsing,” he said. “We have a little gate, and we only let a few people in at a time. If somebody is looking for a particular section, we’re happy to take them there.”
Wills came to La Jolla shortly after the 1960 founding of UC San Diego with the intention of setting up shop near the campus. But he had to settle for 7527 La Jolla Blvd. in a structure that is now a hair salon. He moved to his present location in the early '90s and remodeled it, putting in new redwood ceilings.
Wills said the pandemic has given him an opportunity to spruce up a bit. “I built this place from nothing 40 years ago, and I wasn’t going to sit at home and watch TV,” he said. “I came to work every day and fine-tuned things. We built new bookcases and upgraded them. We’re always purging and fine-tuning. There’s always something to do.”
D.G. Wills has also been notable for its guest appearances by renowned authors over the years. The list includes Norman Mailer (1995), Allen Ginsberg (1994), U.S. poet laureate Billy Collins (2001-03), Gore Vidal (2005), and several Nobel laureates including Francis Crick, a co-discoverer of the structure of the DNA molecule.
The bookstore owner said he didn’t need an SBA loan to help stay afloat. “I have low overhead,” he said. “I work here alone with some part-time help. We did get a zero-interest credit card to use.”
D.G. Wills Bookstore has also been noted for its marathon St. Patrick’s Day sessions featuring the reading of Irish literature and the playing of Irish tunes. But Wills, 74, said that all got to be a bit much. So he scaled the event back to an entirely private affair a couple of years ago.
“Future St. Patrick’s Day events will be ‘unofficial,’” said Wills adding, “The 42nd Unofficial Annual St. Patrick’s Day Open Reading of Irish Poetry and Prose will be 17 March 2021.”
D.G. Wills Bookstore
Where: 7461 Girard Ave.