By: CJ Dablo
For 20 years, the Easy Does It Books & Gifts in Long Beach has kept the secrets of the addicts who want a fresh start and a little dose of sympathy.
Business owner Richard Waide, clad in a blue shirt and blue jeans, said in an interview Tuesday that he hoped his shop located at 3517 E. Broadway has served as a protected community space for those members of the 12-step groups who struggle with many kinds of addictions. He won’t allow his customers to be photographed, and in keeping with the rules of many 12-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Waide will only allow customers to be identified by their first name followed by the initial of their last name.
“It’s a safe place for people to come,” Waide said, explaining why he wanted to create an environment where customers can strike up a conversation. “They can be total strangers, but in this store, they’re friends immediately.”
Last Wednesday, Easy Does It Books & Gifts celebrated its 20th anniversary. The number “12” is key to the shop’s identity. Waide recalled the day his business opened and how he wouldn’t allow the ribbon guarding the front of his store to be snipped until exactly 12:12pm on April 12, 1997.
The store is full of self-help books and gifts with a positive message. Framed prints of “The Serenity Prayer” share wall space with rows and rows of shelves displaying books like Sex in Recovery: A Meeting Between the Covers and The Recovering Heart: Emotional Sobriety for Women.
Waide has arranged on one display stand colored-glass pebbles proclaiming adages like “one day at a time” or “live and let live.” The Belmont Heights storeowner said his biggest sellers are the medallions for 12-step programs that celebrate specific anniversaries of sobriety or abstinence.
Just before noon last Tuesday, Ken H. wandered into the store armed with a sack lunch. LJ, his tiny and spry black-and-white rescue dog, obediently padded behind his owner and eventually settled down next to his owner at a living-room area at the back of the shop. Ken gulped down his lunch from his perch at one of the arm chairs. He told the Signal Tribune that he has been sober for about 18 years. He credits friends like Waide, who was there to help him finally get help for his alcohol addiction.
“I was terrified. I was just totally scared to death,” Ken said of the moment he realized he had hit his own “bottom” nearly two decades ago. “I couldn’t stop drinking.”
Waide, who took a seat in the chair next to Ken, recalled that day when Ken’s former wife walked into the shop to announce she had given up on her husband.
Waide chuckles a little at the memory.
“She says, ‘If you and your friends want my husband Ken, you can have him,’” Waide said. “He’s holed up in this motel down there, and he’s all yours.’ And she stormed out.”
The Signal Tribune asked Waide why Ken’s wife would have told the shop owner about the situation in the first place.
“I was probably the only person that she knew of that was sober and…might be willing to help,” Waide replied. He had met the couple at the store previously.
Waide and another friend then visited Ken at his motel and banged on the door until Ken let them in. The room was littered with bags of Cheetos and bottles of Gatorade and vodka.
Waide and Ken took turns telling the story of Ken’s decision to finally seek help. With Waide and another friend’s support, Ken finally connected to a detox facility and a recovery house. He made up his mind to get sober and stay sober. He started participating in his AA meetings and spent more time at Waide’s shop, where he would often eat lunch with him and others who would gather there.
It wasn’t an easy road for Ken. He had been suffering from health problems, and his drinking had already captured the wrong kind of attention from law enforcement.
During his interview, Ken acknowledged that, at that point 18 years ago, he already had to deal with three separate incidents of driving under the influence within the space of three weeks. He couldn’t drive. He had to commute by rail to his job in Hollywood. He had worked as a plasterer for movie sets.
Waide says his store has focused on material for about 24 programs that have established themselves in the area. He added that there are about 200 programs that have structured their meetings similar to AA’s. There’s even an AA meeting that takes place at his store every Thursday at 2pm.
It took a while, but Ken eventually healed. He’s now living in a new home with his girlfriend of about 11 years. Ken is retired now and still hangs out at the store all the time.
Waide said that when he opened his store 20 years ago, he fully expected to have time to read lots of books between customer sales. He said that during his time in the shop, he has never had time to read a single book. Waide has had to resort to saving reading time for after-store hours. Like many other independent book sellers, Waide’s sales have suffered a little in this digital age. E-book sales and Internet giants like Amazon are cutting into his profits.
However, Waide stresses that these competitors don’t offer what he can offer– a sympathetic ear from a man who has gone through tough times too. Waide doesn’t mind sharing that, years back, he also had struggled with alcohol. He was homeless at one point and faced his own health problems.
At his store on a sunny Tuesday morning, a steady stream of customers had breezed through the door. A woman and her daughter pored over the display cases before finally deciding to buy a medallion for their daughter/sister to commemorate her six years of sobriety.
Another man, a stocky fellow with a loud voice, laughingly told Waide a little bit of his story of the mistakes he made that landed him in jail and the decision he made to stay clean. He was shopping for a medallion and a special gift box to deliver to a friend who completed 20 years of staying drug-free. He selected a medallion from Cocaine Anonymous.
Waide said that even in a business that has such a serious aspect, there is always room for humor. He acknowledges that circumstances are funnier after the fact, though, not when one is going through drama. Either way, he makes himself available to be, in turns, a listening ear and a cheerleader to those dealing with addiction, as well as to their loved ones.
Waide calls his store a “safe haven.” From his perch next to Ken, Waide glanced over at his friend, who said that he had been terrified especially in the earlier days of sobriety that he would turn to alcohol if he weren’t in an AA meeting or at Waide’s shop.
“This is a safe place to be,” Waide said.