Arcadia’s Favorite Bookstore Closes its Doors for Good

Karen Kropp looks out to her closing store one final time.
Karen Kropp looks out to her closing store one final time.

Nestled in a little nook on First Ave. is a world within a world: Here, walls are hidden behind wooden bookshelves arranged in labyrinthine corridors and spines stamped with titles old and new peeking around every corner. The Book Rack, a beloved staple of Arcadia whose doors have been open for over 40 years, sadly announced its permanent closure set for the end of February.

The recognized storefront of The Book Rack

“It’s time to retire,” said current owner Karen Kropp with a sigh and a smile. From behind the store’s parking lot, she offered up a forlorn look as her friend’s grandchildren chased each other around.

Inspired by a used bookstore on the East Coast, avid book lover and collector Pat Carlson first founded The Book Rack in 1982 to repurpose the books that she had been collecting. Its welcoming allure was also what drew Kropp and her daughter to the location one fateful day two decades ago.

“My daughter saw a sign for ‘Help Wanted’ and said, ‘Mom, you need something to do.’” recalled Kropp, whose granddaughter had just entered elementary school at the time. “I couldn’t keep just cleaning the house! So I applied for the job and got it. Best job I ever had. [Pat] was a dream to work with.”

As a lifelong reader, Kropp remembers devoting hours to classic fiction. “I get into my books so [much] I disappear,” she shared at one point. Her favorites are The Catcher in the Rye and The Great Gatsby, titles familiar to many a high school English student. Kropp maintains a healthy fanaticism for mystery novels by Harlan Coben, Sue Grafton, and Agatha Christie, though since COVID-19 she admitted being “turned off by the really dark mysteries.” 

When Carlson passed away, her husband sold the store to Kropp, who became its official new owner. 

For Kropp, the transition from employee to owner was a smooth one. “There was never hard work. I had worked here for almost 10 years before I bought it. It was just like I [belonged]. So it was easy.”

Throughout the years, Kropp has become a familiar face for first-timers and frequent visitors, whom she noted were mostly students. The Book Rack’s convenient location–within a mile of Arcadia High School and the First Avenue and Dana middle schools–has allowed the store to serve Arcadia’s students for generations.

In her time running The Book Rack, Kropp has seen middle schoolers become high schoolers, move out, and start families.

“I have loved the students that come in,” she expressed. “And, now, these kids come back at Christmas time and are showing [The Book Rack] to their friends or their significant other.”

Help around the store has changed throughout the years. Many of The Book Rack’s longtime workers who started working in their early high school years have moved on and have taken their computer literacy skills with them. 

“All these kids were my computer people because I just don’t do well once they’re moving on, you know, so it’s time,” Kropp shared.

But now, that journey has come to an end. 

“People are reading more on Kindles and ebooks on their phone. No, thank you!” laughed Kropp. For her, the experience of reading must still be quite physical. “I gotta be connected. So that means hanging on to the book, turning the pages. And I can go back if I want to. [With eBooks], you don’t have that same feel.”

Unfortunately for many physical bookstores, not everyone shares the same preferences.

”It just doesn’t sustain itself,” sighed Kropp. 

Kropp poses with a friend’s grandson. The next generation is not as involved with physical books.

But, rest assured, Kropp has many plans for post-retirement. She intends to travel across the U.S. with her sister in a mobile home, visiting national parks—” Old people get free passes!” she joked— and paying visits to her great-grandkids in Florida and Wisconsin, the oldest of which is turning 11 years old.

“My oldest great-grandkid just had his orientation for middle school. I’ve seen him once in six years,” said Kropp. “He’s growing so fast, and I feel bad that I’m missing it. You know, when they hit 13, the last thing they want is a great grandma in their face.”

As Kropp and her family begin their own adventure, an era of Arcadia comes to an end. The Book Rack’s contributions to the literary tastes and consumption of our city are as numerous as the titles lining its shelves–but once its doors close for good, the torch of introducing stories to future generations will have been passed onto us. Until then, stop by The Book Rack, whether it’s to say your goodbyes or to find your next favorite read. Plus, endings aren’t all bad–we’re only at the ”end of the trip waiting for a new chapter to start,” after all.

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