Hundreds of people swarmed the corner of Ventura Boulevard and Hayvenhurst Avenue Sunday morning to protest the departure of Barnes & Noble, the only bookstore in Encino.
Barnes & Noble has decided not to renew its lease at the Encino Marketplace and will close at year-end. The location will then be turned into a CVS Pharmacy.
"We want a bookstore, not another drugstore!" residents chanted.
They said that there are more than 20 pharmacies within a two and a half mile radius of the Barnes & Noble location.
"This isn't even my neighborhood bookstore," said Vicki Abelson, an author and founder of Women Who Write. "But this one bookstore services five neighborhoods. There's a CVS to service every five homes. There's something wrong with that equation."
Protest organizer Robin Permaul said Barnes & Noble is a literary and cultural center for Encino residents. Permaul decided to set up a Facebook group three weeks ago to allow disgruntled residents to vent their frustrations. More than 2,000 people have joined it.
At the protest, Permaul gathered her troops on the street corner and made several public pleas.
"To Barnes & Noble, please don't give up on this location as you've awoken the neighborhood," she said. "You are important to us as a community and we hope to hear your response to our support."
"To CVS, you are not welcome here. Period," Permaul said as protesters cheered. "We are prepared to oppose your application for a liquor license and, if necessary, to boycott the store."
CVS' director of public relations, Mike DeAngelis, said the lease has already been signed. It's a done deal.
Still, hundreds of people signed petitions to oppose CVS' liquor license at Sunday's protest. Members of the Facebook group have also sent letters to Encino Marketplace owner Caruso Affiliated and Councilman Paul Koretz.
Rumors have been buzzing that Barnes & Noble didn't renew its lease because Caruso Affiliated tripled the rent.
"The truth is that they have decided to close their Encino store," Rick Caruso, CEO of Caruso Affiliated, wrote to the Facebook group before the rally. "Last year we reduced their rent to encourage them to stay open, nonetheless, in the end they decided to close due to a lack of sales at this location."
Protestors said they want Barnes & Noble executives to know the Encino Marketplace location is needed in the community, even if it has to downsize.
Calls for comment to Barnes & Noble and Caruso Affiliated headquarters were not returned.
"This will change the dynamics of the community. It's important [to save Barnes & Noble] for our children and schools and it's important for the social life here," Encino resident Stephen Liss said. "This intersection is the main meeting place. I always run into friends when I come."
Rachel Mostow and her four children also said they frequent the Encino Barnes & Noble. "Instead of toys, we buy books. We buy gifts for other kids," Mostow said. "People shop here a lot."
Children drummed and parents marched with their homemade posters. Nobody knows whether Sunday's protest will stop the store closure, but organizers said they are proud of the community support and will continue the fight.
"It takes people like this to save what they need," Encino resident Stephanie Walsh said. "We teach our children that if they want to make the world a better place, they need to stand up for themselves and take action."