It’s Curtains for Circus of Books in West Hollywood

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Photos and Text by Paulo Murillo

BREAKING: The City of West Hollywood is losing yet another historical landmark. Circus of Books in West Hollywood is officially closing after operating on the corner of Santa Monica Boulevard and La Jolla Ave as an adult bookstore for an impressive 57 years.

Owners Karen and her husband Barry Mason have confirmed that the West Hollywood location will follow the footsteps of sister Circus of Books on Sunset in Silverlake, which closed almost a year ago on August 8, 2016, after a good run of 31 years.

“The leasing agreement has been signed with a broker and a For Lease sign will go up at the store any day now,” Mrs. Mason told WEHO TIMES in an exclusive interview. “I think it’s going to be soon. I think December will be a good time. It will be our last Christmas. Hopefully, people will want to come visit one last time. It’s pretty much done.”

The world famous adult bookstore has mostly been a source of nostalgia in recent years for many gay men who swung past the saloon doors in search of erotic movies, sex toys, lube, poppers or glass pipes throughout the 80s and 90s when the store’s popularity was at its peak. It attracted straight porn lovers as well. And famous faces like Elton John, Drew Carey and David Hockney were no strangers to this porn shop.

Circus of Books 1982 – by The New Mr. Burlesk

For those not familiar with the history, the store originally opened as Book Circus in 1960. The Masons acquired the store in 1982 after the original owner allegedly used porn profits to support his cocaine habit and he snorted his way into an eviction.

Owning and operating an adult bookstore was not exactly on their Vision Board when the Masons were trying to make ends meet in the late 70s and early 80s. Not only did Book Circus specialize in hardcore porn that catered to both straight and mostly gay smut consumers, but it was also located in front of the notoriously cruisy gay spot known to this day as Vaseline Alley.

Barry Mason started out as an inventor. He’s got around five patents in the medical field. In the late 1970s, the medical malpractice insurance started to become very expensive, so he looked for other ways to support his family. Then his wife showed him an ad that would change the course of their lives forever.

“We kind of got into this business by accident,” explains Mrs. Mason. “Larry Flynt put out an ad in the LA Times looking for distributors because he was having problems with his national distributor for Hustler Magazine. Barry couldn’t do too much with his medical products, so he started delivering magazines and that’s how we got into this business.”

Book Circus became a major magazine distribution point for the Masons. The owner was their biggest customer from the very start.

“Book Circus and Universal News on Las Palmas and Hollywood Boulevard each took 600 copies of the gay Blueboy magazine when it first came out,” said Mr. Mason. “I would load my truck for these two stops. Guys would be waiting for us at the door. They’d come out and help me bring them in. They’d rip open the box and buy them fresh out of the box. I wouldn’t even be done unloading them and they were already sold. Blueboy was the first mainstream gay magazine. It was slick. The guys loved it.”

Then the owner of Book Circus stopped paying his bills and he stopped paying his rent. Mr. Mason learned from the manager of the store that the owner was deep in his addiction to cocaine and was stiffing everybody. Mason spoke to the manager of the building who informed him that the owner was about to be evicted.

“The next day I got what I thought was a brilliant idea,” Mr. Mason explained. “I called the building manager back and I told her, “If I give you half of his rent until you evict him, will you sign over the lease to me for the same deal you’re giving him?’”

“She said ‘OK.’ So I paid half of his rent for two months and then one day she told me he was out and she gave me keys to the store.”

The owner of Book Circus filed for bankruptcy and the courts tried to come for the Masons’ assets. That is why Book Circus became Circus of Books. The words were switched around and the rest as they now say is “herstory”.

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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