Sci-fi bookstore loses lease, may close

Mysterious Galaxy opened in San Diego in 1993.
(Kelly Orazi)

Without new location and new owner, end will come for Mysterious Galaxy

After 26 years as one of San Diego’s leading independent bookstores, Mysterious Galaxy may be forced to close soon.

The store, which has been looking for a buyer for more than a year, is losing its lease on Balboa Avenue in Clairemont and has 60 days to move, according to Kelly Orazi, the manager. Without a new owner and a new location, it will shut down, she said.

About a dozen people work there.

“We’re definitely heartbroken because this isn’t just a job to us,” Orazi said. “This is a love of community and a love of storytelling.”

Owner Terry Gilman and two partners opened Mysterious Galaxy in 1993 with a focus on science fiction, fantasy, horror and mystery. That niche enabled it to survive the growth of online book selling while other general-interest stores in San Diego and elsewhere went out of business.

Five years ago, it doubled in size, moving from longtime quarters on Clairemont Mesa Boulevard to a storefront on Balboa just east of Genesee Avenue. The move gave it more room for author events, which have also been a key to its survival. The store hosts about 20 events every month.

In an email announcement, Gilman said “the past several years have seen 5-10 percent growth in sales and increasing profits.” But she also owns Creating Conversations, based in Manhattan Beach, which arranges author visits and sells books at events throughout Southern California, and has said she no longer has “the bandwidth” to do both.

Mysterious Galaxy went up for sale in September 2018. “We’ve come close to finding the right person, but it hasn’t happened yet,” Orazi said.

The Balboa Avenue lease expired in August and the store has been operating month-to-month. Orazi said the building owner recently found a long-term tenant and gave Mysterious Galaxy a 60-day eviction notice.

In an email statement, the store employees said, “We have found a family here, among each other and our wonderful readers, and we hope this store can continue to provide an inclusive place for anyone and everyone who wishes to pick up a new book, find an old favorite, or spend time among people who love books and the stories they contain.”

They’ve launched a social media campaign about the possible closure with the hashtag #savemysteriousgalaxy.

San Diego bookstores have had their ups and downs in recent years, echoing national trends. A handful of new ones have opened around the county — most recently Diesel, in Del Mar — while others, including longtime used stores in Hillcrest and Normal Heights, have closed.

According to industry statistics, revenue at U.S. bookstores was $13 billion in 2018, up $1 billion from the year before.