Pennywise Books — A Pacific Beach tradition for more than 40 years
Daok (rhymes with Coke) Davison said he never planned to own a bookstore.
Forty years later, he feels fortunate that he has owned Pennywise Books for so many years.
Davison was living in Chula Vista with his parents when he heard about a Pacific Beach store for sale.
“I didn’t have any other plans, so I quit my job, dropped out of college and bought it,” he said. “My parents were all for it.”
Although he had no experience with selling books, much less running a store, Davison said he just “learned as I went.”
“The place was in bad shape when I first took over,” he said. “It was a little rinky dink place that had been an antique shop, divided into different sections and with a dozen different wallpapers.”
Fortunately for Davison, he was able to hire an employee of the previous owner; they worked together for 20 years, until she passed away.
He also completely remodeled the store, building more than 70 bookshelves by hand in his garage and giving each one three coats of varnish.
Now the shop boasts 1,000 square feet of tightly packed but easy to navigate space, filled from top to bottom with books, books and more books.
Covering all different genres, from fiction to true crime, biographies, cookbooks and more, Davison referred to many of the books as “beach and airport reading — just fun reading for entertainment.”
He estimates the store stocks about 75 percent fiction to 25 percent nonfiction, and said he has the “most extensive selection of paperback fiction in all of San Diego, including new bookstores.”
Although he buys new books on occasion, he said many of his books are donated. Others he scouts for and some are received when his customers trade them in for discounts on their next purchase.
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Address: 1331 Garnet Ave., Pacific Beach
Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays to Saturdays, closed Sundays and Mondays
He was quick to point out that donated books have kept the store afloat, especially during the worst of the COVID pandemic. With many other shops closed, he was able to take in many books that had no where else to go.
Davison also trades books with his customers.
The cost of a normal book would be half the original cover price. For example, an $8 book would sell for $4. For the trade-in, the customer only has to pay 25 percent of the cover price, dropping the $8 to $2. Of course, the books traded need to be currently popular or popular classics, with a few other caveats as well.
Books which are damaged, out-of-date or overstocks may be refused as trade-ins, he said. However, even those books are often accepted as donations, then placed on his $1 tables.
“I have city permission to have five carts on the sidewalk, and the carts are filled with books,” Davison said. “The books change all the time. Sometimes they are damaged, sometimes they are just too big for my shelves, sometimes I just can’t move them out quickly enough. But each book sells for $1 and it’s been that way for the last 30 years,” he said. “It’s my version of a permanent garage sale.”
Pennywise Books also has a unique hardback rental policy — brand new hardbacks can be rented for $5 for three weeks.
“Most of the books are rented to people I know, “ he said. “It works like a library, without the months-long waiting list for the latest hardback.”
By knowing his customers so well, he is able to stock the books they prefer.
“I live and breathe and talk books all day, so I have my fingers on the pulse of exactly what people in this neighborhood want,” he said. “So half the customers are more like reoccurring friends and not strangers.”
By stocking what his customers want, keeping his prices low and constantly changing his inventory, he is also able to help his buyers save an enormous amount of money on their reading habits.
“Some people buy six months of books at a time from me, and my customers come from all over San Diego County,” he said. “Some even make regular trips to the store from Los Angeles, as there’s not really any used book stores left around L.A. anymore,” he said.
For Davison, books are worth much more than just their monetary value.
“Because I am a totally self-educated person, books are very important to me,” he said. “Especially in today’s world, books can give you a better understanding of how things work, different viewpoints, and more depth and context than snippets of news, a tweet or a website.”
The past 40 years haven’t been all work. Davison said he’s had some fun experiences too. One dealt with his most unique book, which he originally didn’t even know he had.
“It was a first addition Dr. Seuss, ‘The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins’ signed,” he said. “It came in with a bunch of other books and I didn’t even know it was there until the person left.”
He had a friend sell the rare find, and he received $750 for it on Ebay years ago. It was a unique situation for someone who doesn’t deal in rare or valuable books.
Another fun experience is one he still gets to share. Legoland California built a replica of his bookstore.
“It’s miniature, about a foot tall and a foot wide and is outdoors; it’s still there,” he said. “One of my former shop neighbors requested it and they built it, as well as the motorcycle shop on this street.”
But Davison said it’s the friendships he’s made with his customers that make his job worthwhile.
“Half the people that come in my store I consider personal friends; I’ve seen them every week for five, 10 or even 15 years,” he said. “I get to know some of them really well. Whether they buy a lot or not, they return like clockwork. They’re my favorite kind of customer.”