It was Saturday night, a typical Art Walk evening in downtown Pomona, with Second Street blocked to cars, vendors and live music filling the busy plaza and people wandering the sidewalks and galleries.
And, as usual, Magic Door Used Books was open. But the circumstances were far from ordinary.
It was not quite one week after owner Dwain Kaiser was shot to death in his apartment above the 155 W. Second St. storefront.
The bearded bookman, 69, was a familiar presence in the downtown Arts Colony.
Bands would drop in before their shows at the Fox or Glass House and sign a CD for the hippie owner and his wife, JoAnn Kaiser. Customers chatted up Dwain Kaiser about science fiction, comics or other passions. Even people who didn’t read would stop in to see the bookstore cat.
It had seemed the store might stay closed, or open only for a one-day blowout. Yet the word went out Saturday on social media: The door of Magic Door was open once again.
Customers scanned shelves inside the long, narrow store, packed with some 10,000 paperbacks and hardbacks.
JoAnn Kaiser was there, as was her son, Ray Hino, who had come down from the Bay Area to help.
I’d been a customer since the store’s 2005 opening. A bookseller for 50 years, Dwain Kaiser would suggest books (or force them on me), talk about bookhunting and serve up anecdotes from the years when he was active in science fiction fandom.
I had seen JoAnn Kaiser hours after Dwain Kaiser’s death, which police say came at the hands of a teenager who lived with them and who is in custody. JoAnn Kaiser was exhausted and weak.
But Saturday she was revived, buoyed by her family and friends. A 12th anniversary sale that had been set to end July 5 instead continues, with all merchandise 30 percent off. The sale pricing may continue indefinitely.
Her goal is not to keep the store long-term. For one thing, she’s 82. But she wasn’t going to let the tragedy mark the end of Magic Door.
“I could have locked the door. I’m not a door-locker,” JoAnn Kaiser told me firmly. “The plan is to get the books he loved to the people who want them, who need them. He didn’t want his books dumped. He wanted them to go to somebody.”
Opening the store allows people pull together and do something positive, she said.
“It’s the support we’ve got to look at, rather than the agony of what brought it on,” JoAnn Kaiser told me. She showed me the pin she’s been wearing in recent months: “Hate is never a family value.” It has fresh meaning for her now.
Many customers Saturday knew what had happened.
“Everything in the store is 30 percent off,” JoAnn Kaiser informed one man as he stepped inside. He paused. “Sorry for your loss,” he said somberly.
The bookstore fit the Arts Colony like a glove. “It was just part of the ambience of downtown Pomona,” customer Bill Martinez told me outside after buying two books. (I recognized “The Best of S.J. Perelman” as one I had sold Dwain Kaiser a few weeks ago.)
“Everybody knew them,” Martinez said of the Kaisers. “They were part of the community, and one of the best parts.”
Mayor Tim Sandoval has visited to offer his condolences and at Monday’s City Council meeting asked for a moment of silence in Dwain Kaiser’s memory.
A GoFundMe page set up July 4 had a goal of $10,000 and by Tuesday had topped $16,000. Melanie Yetter, who set up the page and who owns the yoga studio next door, wrote that JoAnn Kaiser lives “well below the poverty level” and that proceeds would go toward Dwain’s funeral and JoAnn’s expenses.
A small, impromptu memorial outside the store has photos, customer comments and flowers, changed out as needed by nearby Ferguson’s Flower Gallery. Friends and customers have brought in food for JoAnn Kaiser. Some drop money into a jar on the counter: a $1, a $5, a $20, or their change from a purchase.
Teacher Hank Mollett bought a sack of books. Hino tallied them and said the total before the discount was $167. Mollett quickly grabbed a $20 book he’d had his eye on and added it to the pile. His grand total was $131. He expressed regret he hadn’t been a better customer.
Jorge Martinez handed Hino $5 for $4 in books and declined his change. He pulled a Maxfield Parrish art book from his backpack, quietly sharing that he’d bought it on his last visit and that Dwain had said Parrish was one of his favorites.
“It really is a magical place,” Martinez told me of Magic Door. “It’s an important institution of the city.”
Not every customer knew of Dwain Kaiser’s death. Monica Berrocal was saddened when I told her. She liked to bring her children there. Once JoAnn Kaiser gave her son a Thomas the Tank Engine book. “They were always so kind,” she said.
Hino, a Pomona High graduate, greeted customers warmly from Dwain Kaiser’s usual seat and thanked them for coming. A hospital executive, he confided that this was his first retail job. He’ll be there helping out as he can, as will his sister, Kim.
“It’s very different from what I normally do,” Hino told me cheerfully. “I’m enjoying it. It’s nice. And it’s good being back in Pomona.”
He said his top priority is finding his mom a safe place to live, and one that allows pets. JoAnn said she will keep Charlie Girl Ghost, the tuxedo cat who wandered into the store as a kitten last year and hasn’t left. (She has her own GoFundMe campaign.)
Names and numbers are being logged of people who would like to volunteer to help. Store hours are uncertain for now, but you can phone 909-472-2990 to check.
The store had made more than $500 in sales as Saturday wound down, more than a typical Art Walk night despite the 30 percent discount.
“Pomona’s resilient. I think tonight shows the best of Pomona,” JoAnn Kaiser said.
The store has a lot of books, and there are more in storage that Dwain Kaiser, due to age and mobility issues, had not seen in years. JoAnn Kaiser, with help, hopes to dig them all out, put them on the shelves and get them homes before shutting the doors for good.
“He had a mad love affair with books,” she said of her husband of 32 years.
“The support will fade. I know that. But I’m doing what he would have wanted.”
Book lovin’ David Allen writes Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. Contact email@example.com or 909-483-9339, visit insidesocal.com/davidallen, like davidallencolumnist on Facebook and follow @davidallen909 on Twitter.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct the name of JoAnn Kaiser’s son.