Obama Draws a Crowd at Eso Won
By Wendy Werris -- Publishers Weekly, 1/21/2009 7:25:00 AM
On a balmy Southern California morning that stood in sharp contrast to the frigid weather in Washington, D.C., Eso Won Books in South Los Angeles hosted a “Barack Breakfast” for more than 80 customers. Three big-screen televisions were perched on podiums around the store, which was transformed into a friendly neighborhood restaurant with enough tables and chairs to accommodate the large group of celebrating diners. Co-owner James Fugate organized the elaborate meal, which was cooked by him and two long-time Eso Won employees and served buffet-style in the front of the store. The gathering started at 8:00 a.m.
“This is definitely one of the top events we’ve ever had,” said Fugate, whose store also hosted President Bill Clinton during his book signing tour in 2004. “I’m on the verge of tears right now.” Eso Won has been fighting an uphill battle to stay in business for the last two years. After observing its twentieth anniversary in 2008, co-owners Fugate and Tom Hamilton announced the imminent closing of the store last winter. The community, including neighboring schools and the L.A. City Council, rallied around it, however, and gave Eso Won a reprieve from what many believed would be its demise.
“Obama’s inauguration makes me more determined to stay in business,” Fugate said. “This administration brings with it new ideas that I believe will take us and the whole country in a new economic direction. We are overjoyed today.” A self-proclaimed “Obama nut,” Fugate also noted, “Maybe I haven’t been the best businessman in the past, but now I want to do everything I can to make the store run better. I want to start paying my publishers on time so our stock situation improves. We’ll also hold more community events here in addition to our regular author appearances.”
Eso Won’s customers have supported the store through good times and bad. “This place is like a university of sorts,” said Kali Alexander. “There is a wealth of information here, and it’s a great place for our four children to come for sustenance for their souls and minds. I’ve spent so much money at Eso Won over the years that I feel like I own stock in the store.” Customer Donald McClure added, “Eso Won is a place to come to exchange ideas. It’s very important to this community.”
Fugate is betting on two forthcoming books about the inauguration to be bestsellers at Eso Won. He has two hundred copies each on order of Obama’s inaugural address and Elizabeth Alexander’s poem, Praise Song for the Day, which she read at the inauguration. “All the indies are doing well with the Obama merchandise, the books and sidelines. He’s brought a new atmosphere to our store. This is a transcendent moment,” Fugate exclaimed.