The Masons were business savvy. Circus of Books grew under their management. Two other locations opened–one on Sunset, in Silverlake, and another on Ventura Boulevard.
“The trick for us was to not judge the material,” said Mrs. Mason. “The only time we ever made a stand against a book is in the 80s when Salman Rushdie came out with The Satanic Verses. People were afraid to sell it. They were threatening to bomb the stores that sold it. Our clerks said it was OK to carry it, so we said fine. We only sold a few copies.”
“The one book that we never wanted to carry was the Scientology book,” She added. “We didn’t think they were good for people. When you want to judge books and merchandise, there’s a lot of stuff you can judge that’s not necessarily erotic material.”
The Ventura location was the first to close due to pressure from the neighbors who didn’t want an adult bookstore in their neighborhood. Low sales and a lack of interest for the Silverlake location eventually forced them to close that location as well a few years later.
Now the same is happening to the West Hollywood location. The Masons do not have an online presence to compete with Amazon and Ebay. They also believe the gay community is more accepted today than back in 1982, so gay erotica is more easily accessible.
“There is just no need for what we do. That’s in many ways a good thing,” Mrs. Mason said. “Gay is like having blue eyes or being left-handed nowadays. It’s just another aspect of people that maybe isn’t as common, but gay people are not nearly as marginalized as they were when we first started and that’s a good thing.”
“What’s happening here is the magazines aren’t publishing,” she said. “Everything we sell can be purchased online and probably cheaper and certainly faster. We’re just done. If Circus of Books is a gay bookstore, it doesn’t need to exist anymore.”
“It’s not that easy to close a store,” she added. “One of our guys who worked for 27 years asked to be laid off. He’s going to retire. For many years we had a pension plan for our employees and health insurance. In recent years since things have gone bad, we closed the pension plan and just distributed all the assets. We just can’t afford the health insurance for some years now. It’s not very much fun to be an employee with no benefits. It’s just as well to be done.”
The Masons seem in good spirits and at peace with the closing of their store.
“It served a purpose for a very long time. When we closed the Silverlake store, I was surprised at the people who came in with real gratitude for what the store did for them. If I happened to be there, it was kind of embarrassing for me to be thanked by them. I don’t think I deserve the credit at all. Our employees did a very good job. We ran a business. We worked hard and we were fortunate that somebody set up the motto so we could be successful.”
Efforts to keep the memory of Circus of Books in West Hollywood alive are already in the works. Artist Rachel Mason (daughter to the Masons) and seasoned documentary and TV producer Cynthia Childs are currently working on a documentary about the history of the adult bookstore and the story behind the couple who kept those saloon doors swinging for 30-plus years despite numerous obstacles like the time they were raided by the FBI and the times they were raided by the police. The store was also affected by the AIDS epidemic, which took the lives of some of their employees. And of course, there are the colorful characters that made up the store’s clientele.
The film is currently raising funds to make this documentary about West Hollywood history a reality. To learn more, or to make a generous donation, visit http://documentaries.org/cid-films/films-in-production/circus-of-books/