Zibby’s Bookshop: Santa Monica’s New Literary Hub

Text by Anne Wallentine
Images by Tim Aukshunas

It’s a rarefied circle that can claim actress and author Dame Joan Collins attended their first birthday party. But Collins was the guest of honor at the one-year celebration of Zibby’s Bookshop, the brick-and-mortar offshoot of Zibby Owens’ book-media empire (Zibby Media) on Santa Monica’s Montana Avenue.  

Wry and soignée at 90 years old, Collins arrived for celebrations that included a book signing for her latest autobiography, Behind The Shoulder Pads, and a recording for Owens’ podcast, Moms Don’t Have Time to Read. “I think all bookstores are important, and I’m shattered and horrified by the fact that so many have shuttered,” the actress says, just after signing her new book for fans. “I just hope that some stores will get back. And this is a lovely store, [where] people can sit back and relax.” 

“Owning a bookstore is something I had always dreamed about,” Owens says, but the reality of running one has been “beyond my wildest dreams.” Since its 2023 opening, she adds, “the Santa Monica community has completely embraced having this bookstore here.” 

Los Angeles has always been a town of writers, but its bookshops have sometimes gone overlooked in a screen-focused city. Classic shops like Book Soup, Small World Books, and Skylight have remained popular for decades, but many others closed their doors as online retail took over. After downtown Santa Monica’s Bookmonster shuttered in 2022, only the treasure-hunting secondhand shop Angel City Books and Records remained on Main Street. Now, new, specialist shops like Zibby’s have been opening and thriving across the country, driven by community demand. In Santa Monica, in addition to Zibby’s you’ll find Waverly Books and Thunderbolt Spiritual Books.

Owens, who divides her time between New York and Los Angeles, sensed an opportunity after Amazon’s Pacific Palisades bookstore closed in 2022. She started with a pop-up concept, but quickly wanted to develop the space further. “Selling books is only a tiny piece of the puzzle,” Owens says. A bookshop, she says, is also “a community meeting spot. It’s an event center. It’s a place for people to come together and feel a part of something, feel connected, feel inspired, feel moved, [and] know that they have hours of entertainment of their choice at their fingertips.” 

The store’s shelves are categorized by identities, emotions, ages, and interests, based on the personal and thematic recommendation style favored by Owens and her co-founders, Sherri Puzey and Diana Tramontano. “I think part of the role of the neighborhood bookstore…is providing that level of curation for the audience,” Owens says. They have added and adjusted based on customer feedback, adding “a shelf for the anxious” and stocking more fantasy books as “fantasy has really boomed in the last year,” Owens explains. They also have author-curated shelves by the likes of Kevin Kwan and Dani Shapiro, “because people want to know what people they respect want to read.”

The store hosts a packed calendar of author events and a monthly book club, which Owens says averages around 20 regular attendees. Owens’ “book-fluencer” status means Collins is not the only celebrity with a cameo at the store: actress and producer Reese Witherspoon has also put in an appearance, and former first lady of California Maria Shriver curated her own shelf of book recommendations. Other shelves feature the latest picks from celebrity book clubs, including Witherspoon’s, Oprah’s, and Jenna Bush Hager’s. Altogether, the store’s bookshelves feel like internet influence made tangible.

Zibby’s typically stocks the latest bestsellers, Owens says, since that’s what their customers often come in looking for—like Gabrielle Zevin’s Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Bonnie Garmus’ Lessons in Chemistry. The store also highlights the output from Owens’ publishing company, Zibby Books, whose spring publications include Amy Lin’s memoir about grief, Here After, and a family-relationships romp, Wedding Issues, by Elle Evans. Owens’ own debut novel, Blank—published by Amazon’s Little A—arrived in March, centering around a conceptual-publishing idea that was suggested by Owens’ son (and in the book, is suggested by the protagonist’s son). Eventually, everything in the Zibby Media world connects: the podcast and bookstore make cameo appearances in the novel, too. 

Charlotte Johnson, the store’s assistant manager since its launch, says “the connection with the community” has been a mainstay for the business, including garnering regular customers who come in and share their thoughts on books and life. Johnson has noticed “how excited the people around Montana [Avenue] are to have a local bookstore,” she says. “People will just come in and thank us” for creating the local space, Owens adds. 

“I hope that it adds on and continues to elevate the scene here. I think that [the scene] has only been rising in credibility and importance,” Owens says of the shop’s role in the L.A. literary world. “I think it has a younger brother to New York type of vibe, you know, always trying to catch up, but I feel like if I can help that and unite all the readers here, who are really looking for that point of connection and community, then what a joy.” 

Books Based in Santa Monica 

Not only is Santa Monica a great place to find great books and read them (on the beach, in a bookshop or cafe), but it also happens to make for a great location for the stories told in their pages. Here now, a few selections of novels set in Santa Monica. 

White Boy Shuffle

In Paul Beatty’s sharp, satirical coming-of-age novel, Gunnar Kaufman experiences the vast cultural differences between Santa Monica and the fictionalized LA neighborhood his family moves to. 

A Single Man

Christopher Isherwood’s moving story about a man grappling with the loss of his partner takes place over one day in the Santa Monica Canyon. It has also been made into a Tom Ford movie starring Colin Firth. 

The Pleasure of My Company

The novel by acclaimed comedian and actor Steve Martin follows an agoraphobic man who lives within the confines of his Santa Monica apartment, yearning to break free. 

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?

A Depression-era dance marathon at the Santa Monica Pier brings together two struggling Angelenos in a harsh, existentialist tale written by Horace McCoy and adapted into an eponymous film starring Jane Fonda. 

The Lightning Thief

The first installment of Percy Jackson’s popular young adult fantasy (and film) series about a young demigod on a heroic quest sees the Greek gods descend to Santa Monica beach for a battle.

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