UP IN SMOKE! Circus of Books Could Become Cannabis Dispensary

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Circus of Books - Photo by Paulo Murillo

WEHO TIMES broke a story last June that the historical adult book store Circus of Books in West Hollywood was closing after operating for 57 years.

“I think December will be a good time,” owner Karen Mason stated in an interview last spring. “It will be our last Christmas. Hopefully people will want to come visit one last time. It’s pretty much done.”

However, things didn’t work out the way she and her husband Barry Mason hoped when they decided they were pretty much done with the once popular book store that specializes in selling a long list of mature content. They figured they’d liquidate their inventory as a final hurrah before the big top went down at the beginning of this year.

December came and went and the store remains open. A For Lease sign above the main entrance is a telling sign that the end is near, but how near that end is, remains to be seen. It has been business as usual without a going out of business sale in sight.

The Masons purchased Book Circus in 1982, and would later turn it into Circus of Books. They currently own the entire property it sits in. The store has been on life support due to potential tenants who were initially interested in preserving the business and keeping the name and adding some different elements. “There is not a lot of interest in this store,” Mrs. Mason stated late last August. “There are three people who all do similar things who are interested. I have one potential buyer who is interested in buying the whole thing, which would make things easier for me. It’s not easy to sell a business these days. I have to be very careful.”

She stated that the viable interest was to keep the store the way it was, or keep part of the store. “It would be the end of me running it, but the parts of the store that are still popular—the lubes, the aromas, the adult DVDs—everyone who’s looked at it is going to continue that,” She said. “I think they’re adding clothes. Everyone who’s looked at it also wants the name. I don’t know why they would, but it seems like they do. There is a chance that it’s going to remain that kind of a store, but run by people who are more enthusiastic and invested in it. I was hoping to get more interest and a different interest.”

Another businessman who put his name in the basket in hopes of leasing the space last summer is one Larry Block who owns the soon to be defunct slut gear retail store Block Party, located in the heart of WeHo. Mrs. Mason said back then that Block was enthusiastic about the space. “He’s telling people that he would be taking over the space and is already talking like he’s the new tenant. A vendor of mine said that he told him he was going to take it, but I haven’t made a decision yet.”

“Larry Block is like a one man advertisement for himself,” she added. “He has expressed an interest definitely. We’ve asked to see some things, which he’s shown us. Some of the public stuff about him like how he put his business up for sale—that he wanted to be the city council person… he hasn’t been at this as long as the other two people who are interested. There are three other [potential tenants] who are all similar, but the others have some more compelling things about them. I think they have stronger financials to be honest. I really don’t want to say anything more than that.”

WEHO TIMES caught up with the Masons at end the end of 2017. Mrs. Mason says they remain undecided about the future of Circus of Books at the turn of the New Year. The bookstore cannot seem to shake its erotic past. There are still talks of keeping the space in the adult arena. “Three people are still interested in keeping the adult elements,” she said. “In many ways, the book aspect of it and the newsstand aspect of it is going to end. Even the people interested who are in the adult field are not doing books and magazines and papers. That was a pretty big part of what Circus of Books was for a very long time.”

WEHO TIMES has learned that Legalized recreational cannabis has potential at the space as well. “We have some people who are interested in the same [adult] field and we have some people who are interested in the field of marijuana,” Mrs. Mason revealed. “This might work for that as well. It will be some form of cannabis. Cannabis has to go through some sort of licensing process. We would just be landlords. That is all.”

“With the cannabis it’s a little different,” she added. “We looked at the licensing requirements for cannabis in the City of West Hollywood and this location might work for that. We have a real estate agency who are kind of representing us in this and so far they’ve brought two people.”

It is also possible that the Circus of Books name may change after all. “Nobody is really talking to us about the name really. I think it’s more about the location than the name. What they want to do is start their vision of this business in this location.”

According to Mrs. Mason, Larry Block’s name is still in the basket as a potential tenant as well. “We’ve not decided. He’s quite interested, I do know that, but we haven’t made a decision. He’s one of a number of people who are interested, but I want to be careful. What I have seen in the past is—someone can come in here and promise me the moon and then run it for some months, not pay any bills and walk away with a nice chunk of change. I’m not saying that the people who are looking at it are going to do that, but it does happen.”

WEHO TIMES – Circus of Books photo by Paulo Murillo

When prompted whether or not Circus of Books would be around for a while longer until the Masons select a tenant, she said, “Well, you’re drawing that conclusion. I certainly won’t be running it much longer. That’s about all I can say. It’s a big commitment for anybody who moves here and it’s a big move for us.”

The Masons have the luxury to be cautious and selective about the tenant they welcome to their retail space. There is no rush to sell or close Circus of Books, even though they insist the store has run its course. “Selling the Circus of Books in Silverlake was easier, because that store clearly needed to close,” she said. “The neighbors didn’t support it anymore. They wanted something different. Here, the neighbors care a little more. They support it—nothing like they used to, but we are still profitable. We still have a lot of people who tell us that they are so glad we’re still here. They may come in for whatever reason. We still have a lot of loyal customers. It’s good enough here that we can limp along, but limping along doesn’t feel very good.”

Circus of Books remains open until further notice. Enjoy it while it lasts.

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Paulo Murillo
Paulo Murillo is Editor in Chief and Publisher of WEHO TIMES. He brings close to 20 years of experience in LGBT media and more than two decades as a West Hollywood resident. Murillo began his professional writing career as the author of “Love Ya, Mean It,” an irreverent and sometimes controversial West Hollywood lifestyle column for FAB! newspaper. Murillo’s work has appeared in numerous print and online publications. He was a contributor to LGBT magazine IN Los Angeles. He is known for the “Hot Topic” column in Frontiers magazine, in which he covered breaking news and local events in the City of West Hollywood. His recent work has been published in the Los Angeles Blade and his articles, essays and photographs can also be seen on the pages of THE FIGHT Magazine. He started “The Share” feature for THE FIGHT, which spotlights members of the Los Angeles recovery community who share about their sober journey. He can be reached at editor@wehotimes.com