An Amazing New Chapter Awaits Bookstore Owner Judy Nelson

March 26, 2011
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Judy Nelson has started an exciting new chapter of her life.

Judy Nelson has started an exciting new chapter of her life.

Start chatting with Judy Nelson, and lots of impressions are apt to cross your mind.

Is she the lost Nelson from The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, that 50s and 60s sitcom that millions of viewers watched weekly because it offered both laughs and American values in large doses?

Is she Glendora’s Tea Party version of Sarah Palin, only smarter?

This much we know, Judy Nelson has owned Mrs. Nelson’s Toy and Book Shop in La Verne since 1985 and turned it into a destination location for readers everywhere, and she is also the newly elected councilwoman from Glendora (she was sworn in last week).

In the hour LaVerneOnline got to spend with her — before Newberry Award winning author Lois Lowry was arriving to discuss her new work — we found Mrs. Nelson an engaging and refreshingly open book about both her business and her politics.

She wasn’t always a bookstore owner. For about 10 years, Nelson, now 66, worked as an occupational therapist, helping patients overcome both mental and physical disabilities. When she became a mom, she stopped working so she could raise her four young children. One of their favorite escapes was visiting the local library and San Marino Toy and Book Shop, which was a lot like Mrs. Nelson’s Toy and Book Shop is today.

“We spent enormous amounts of time at the library and going to different bookstores,” Nelson said. Although a reader, she said she grew up with few children’s books in the home, and wasn’t about to pass that bookless legacy onto her children.

By the time, her kids were all in school, she wanted to go back to work, but using a new kind of therapy – biblio-therapy. “We just had so much pleasure going to children’s stores and libraries that when they were all in school, I said I can do this [open a children’s bookstore].” Her husband, an entrepreneur who had started two manufacturing companies, encouraged her to take the leap.

Nelson opened and ran her eponymous bookstore in Covina for five years before moving to La Verne in 1985. At first, she felt like a minnow in a big pond. Her education on how to survive in the publishing world lasted all of three days – the length of time it took her to complete the American Booksellers Association course for new bookstore owners. “It took me about six months to a year,” Nelson said, “to really get the drift of the whole flow of the seasons of publishing.”

One of her best business decisions was to buy the land on which her new La Verne store operated. In lean years, like now when independent bricks-and-mortar booksellers are under assault by the internet and electronic books, not to mention the slowly recovering economy, she has never had to worry about her landlord raising the rent.

Today, Mrs. Nelson’s offers more than 35,000 in-store titles and a wide selection of quality play toys from its location across the street from Damien High School on Bonita west of Wheeler Ave. Kids and their parents also come in for story times twice a week (Tuesday, 10 a.m. for preschoolers and Saturday, 11 a.m. for older children) and any number of regularly scheduled events that are posted on their popular Web site, There are comics and creative writing contests and a reader’s club where members get to read and review new children’s books before they’ve even been published.

Story time is every Tuesday at 10 a.m. and every Saturday at 11 a.m. at Mrs. Nelson's.

Story time is every Tuesday at 10 a.m. and every Saturday at 11 a.m. at Mrs. Nelson's.

“We get hundreds and hundreds of submissions,” Nelson said about the writing contest, in particular.

A smart businesswoman, Nelson over the years has pursued and practiced the policy of diversification, opening two other divisions: Mrs. Nelson’s Book Fair and Mrs. Nelson’s Library Services. In the book fair fundraising business, her company furnishes about 500 Southland and San Joaquin Valley schools with books for their book fairs. Mrs. Nelson’s delivers the books, children and their parents buy their favorites, the participating school retains a percentage of the sales, and Mrs. Nelson picks up the books. Her company does about 20 book fairs a week.

In the library services business, her reps call on local librarians to help them fill their library collections. At one of her Pomona warehouses, Mrs. Nelson’s operates a book bindery so that she can put new covers on books and give them the appropriate barcode before delivering them shelf-ready to libraries. Her daughter runs the book fair and son runs the school library business, while she and her husband mind the “financial” books. Through all three divisions, Mrs. Nelson’s has donated $850,000 to local schools and organizations.

As fascinating as it is to hear Mrs. Nelson talk about the evolution and staying power of Mrs. Nelson’s Toy and Book Shop, it’s equally riveting to hear about her new political adventure. It’s as if she is leaving the safe, sweet world of bedtime stories for the muck and mud of politics. She’s replacing the fantasy of a child’s world with Machiavellian mischief and Realpolitik. She’s jumping from a soft storytime pillow into a witch’s boiling cauldron.

0023“The reason I’m doing this is I am really concerned with what’s happening to our country and our state,” Nelson said. “The government is getting so big. Our taxes are going up, but are we seeing more for it?

“Not really,” she said, answering her own question. “We’re seeing more problems.”

After working 12 hours, six and seven days a week for years building her toy and book shop, Nelson said she is clearly enjoying the new twist her life has taken and the opportunity Glendora voters have given her. She’s no longer reading the story; she’s creating her own narrative, her own storyline.

“I love it, it’s a first for me,” said the newly minted councilwoman, who ran on a platform of fiscal responsibility. She said the conventional wisdom she received from two ex-mayors is “don’t say a word” for the first sixth months. “I keep forgetting that already,” she said laughing.

She’s either a throwback to Harriet Nelson or Glendora’s version of Sarah Palin. “I like to see people have to work for what they get, have to earn their own money, and rise from that because they’ve learned good habits,” Nelson said.

She wants to scale back taxes and government pensions and end what she believes is the lunacy over how we run our prisons. “We can take the illegal aliens that are in prison – we have 80,000 or something like that – and send them to Mexico and pay Mexico to incarcerate them. It would cost less, way less,” Nelson said.

Nelson supports the League of California’s lobbying efforts to try to rein in what she views as costly overregulation, especially with respect to the management of the state’s water resources.

“The particles of certain chemicals now have to be so small that it’s almost perfect and there’s not even technology to reach the levels that the federal government is requiring us to reach,” Nelson said. “Plus, the amount of money it’s going to cost us is going to be astronomical to find perfection. And so the League of Cities is saying we cannot do this, we need to have a reasonable standard; we can’t have this perfection standard. We can’t afford it; we don’t have the technology to do it.”

Nelson doesn’t really care how her views are characterized – mainstream, extreme, Tea Party. About 59th District Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, she said, “I think he’s a fabulous candidate,” echoing his values to “follow the constitution” so that “government won’t walk on us.”

Nelson is outspoken, but is not someone who speaks loudly. She’s simply direct like a good book or a strong essay with a powerful thesis. “I realize that when I speak exactly as to who I am, people become more accepting and more engaged. Democrats endorsed me visibly because they liked I was honest. I want to keep the city financially secure.”

She knows the path she has taken. “I will have enemies soon, but I was just sworn in this week,” she said, with a faint smile, understanding the new chapter her life has taken.

Like a great page-turning book, she’s eager to learn what lies ahead.

One Response to “An Amazing New Chapter Awaits Bookstore Owner Judy Nelson”

  1. Very well-written story about a remarkable person.

    Congratulations, Judy! Fight the good fight!

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