Abril Bookstore at 415 E. Broadway in Glendale, California

Abril Bookstore’s New Chapter: Will the Almost Half-Century-Old Cultural Center Survive?

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By Ani Duzdabanyan-Manoukian

Special to the Mirror-Spectator

GLENDALE, Calif. – Abril Bookstore is moving from its address of 415 East Broadway to Adams Square, an Art Deco shopping center with operating Armenian businesses located in a different part of Glendale. The two-story building covered with bricks was the bookstore’s home for over 22 years. The green door beyond the two pink trees across the years was the entrance of the busiest Armenian community center in the city. Boxes filled with books and paintings carefully placed on the floor silently proclaim the end of an era. The last customer of the day hesitantly rings the doorbell, and Arno Yeretzian, the owner of Abril, realizes that he forgot to lock it. I wave “It’s okay,” so he can conduct one more sale before we start the interview.

Arno finds two folding chairs from somewhere in the office full of moving boxes. He is tired, physically and emotionally. It was a difficult month. Arno reopened the bookstore after the forced closure of Covid-19 and now he needs to pack. The landlord of the building, where Abril has been residing for more than 20 years, didn’t make it any easier for one of the last standing Armenian cultural centers to survive. With a government loan, Arno was only able to cover two month rent and some small expenses. Moving seems to be the only way to keep his father’s dream and his own future alive. “The Armenian community was always supportive. A lot of people just came to shop only to help us with the income. But there are a lot of them who really need books. Abril became the heart of the community. They don’t want us to close,” Arno shares his gratitude.

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Abril was established as the first Armenian-language magazine in Los Angeles in 1977 at the address of 5450 Santa Monica Boulevard. Harout Yeretzian and his brother Noubar started it as a partnership. And of course Seeroon and Seta, Arno’s mother and aunt, respectively, were performing their part in helping Abril to thrive. “They always look at the men, but in reality it’s the women who makes it happen,” Arno smiles profoundly.

Harut took care of the editorial work and Noubar dealt with the finances. Abril magazine covered all the artists, writers and other community members in the Diaspora. Soon, instead of printing Abril somewhere else, the brothers founded their own printing company and even started to take printing orders. The printing business expanded to the point that the Yeretzian brothers started to print books.

“There was always the need for books. People were coming to Abril, looking for Armenian authors (based locally and internationally), explains Arno. In 1978, the space next door to Abril Printing and Publishing emptied and the brothers decided to make it into a bookstore. Abril Bookstore was born and it became the first one in Los Angeles to import books from the Soviet Union. Abril soon became a community center where local intellectuals, political and religious leaders started to gather to exchange views, discuss recent events, argue about the new publications or present the book of the month. Many prominent authors like Hamo Sahyan, Silva Kaputikyan, Vardges Petrosyan had their book signings in Abril.  “I grew up in that environment. The smell of coffee, cigarette smoke and food spiced up all that unique atmosphere,” remembers Arno.

In 1984, Noubar Yeretzian was diagnosed with ALS (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or Lou Gehrig’s disease). In 1989, he passed away, leaving the Abril family in shock. The death of Noubar and the drastic change of the demographics of Hollywood eventually forced Harout to move to Glendale, following most of the Armenian community members, in 1998.

Arno and his cousins were involved in the bookstore all the time. At first, Arno was helping with the website and then started to work as a cashier. When Harout obtained the whole partnership, Arno, whose professional training was in film industry, made Abril his full time work.

In 2010, Harout was diagnosed with cancer and passed away in a very short time, leaving his wife and son devastated. “I had to learn everything by myself. I was always in the front, never dealt with other stuff. I was going through his papers, calling different people to figure out how to run a bookstore,” Arno admits.  One year later Seeroon was diagnosed with ALS. “It took me three years to recover and to rebuilt the business,” Arno sighs.

Seeroon Yeretzian owned Roslin Gallery since 1995 on California Avenue in Glendale, which was presenting the works of Armenian artists from all around the world. When the cupcake shop next door to the bookstore emptied, Arno moved the gallery there to extend Abril and to make it a cultural center, just like his father and uncle did years ago. The new Abril started to be built. “When Border’s closed down, I bought these shelves from them for a very good price. I kept some from the old bookstore as well. I enhanced the old cultural aspect. We started with three events in a month, then it became four or five. With the Armenian movie society, we held the movie nights every first Friday and the music nights every Saturday. It became once again a very busy cultural center,” Arno lists proudly.

Arno realizes the struggles that a small bookstore can go through when some are just closing down (Berj Armenian Bookstore), some minimizing their hours (Sardarabad Book Store) and some book industry giants like Barnes and Noble are closing hundreds of nationwide locations. Last year, Arno started the Siramarg [peacock] Cultural Center Foundation, which includes Abril Bookstore and Roslin Art Gallery, to continue his parents’ legacy.

Reopening Abril after several weeks of Covid-19 closure, Arno welcomed a lot of new customers. “That gives me a hope, a purpose to continue to work. I can still have a healthy business, but not with that rent in this building,” Arno hopefully exclaims.

Abril Bookstore’s new home is only 1100 square feet. This is less than half its previous size. The new Abril won’t have a gallery, only a bookstore. During the last weeks, Arno was having a clearance sale to “lighten the load and raise some funds.”

Arno is optimistic. It will take some time until customers get used to the new location. He only regrets that his daughter, who is 18-months old, won’t see the old Abril. But she will grow up in Abril without a doubt. “This is a special place,” he says, and raises his hands as if trying to wrap them around the 43 years of existence of the bookstore.  “The name itself is very significant for all of us; Abril means to live in Armenian. And after all I’ve met my wife here.”

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