La Jolla has changed.
D.G. Wills hasn’t!
Nor has his brick-and-mortar bookstore at 7461 Girard Ave.
A wooden Indian still guards the door. Books are stacked floor to ceiling. Most days, Wills can be found in his easy chair jawing with guests.
Despite changing times, the dawn of the Information Age and the ongoing conversion from print to electronics, D.G. Wills just keeps on going.
“My world is here,” confided Wills. “It could be argued that I live here.”
Wills came to La Jolla shortly after the 1960 founding of UCSD with the intention of setting up shop near the campus. But he had to settle for 7527 La Jolla Blvd. in a structure that is now a hair salon. He moved to his present location in the early '90s and remodeled it, putting in new redwood ceilings.
Though he couldn’t locate his bookstore at UCSD, Wills has benefited via his close relationship with many of the university’s professors over the years. He's been fortunate enough to acquire many of their personal libraries, adding that fare to his broad and somewhat eclectic collection.
“Students come in here looking for math, physics, the history of medicine,” said Wills, noting, “I’m very strong in technical books, poetry, literature, art.”
Wills has books in different languages servicing La Jolla’s international clientèle. You can get a book there by Homer in Greek or by Cicero in Latin.
“We even carry Dr. Seuss and Harry Potter in Latin,” Wills said, adding, “We have more than 100 categories: lots of music books, architecture, design and décor.”
One thing that hasn’t changed is his annual St. Patrick’s Day celebration, featuring literary readings of Irish poetry and prose, now in its 35th year.
“Oral history is important in bookstores,” said Wills about the event’s purpose. “It brings people together and gets them talking and thinking about all sorts of ideas. It was wilder when we were younger, sometimes going until midnight or 1 p.m.”
Wills’ St. Pat’s Day fests tend to be larger when they fall on a Friday or Saturday.
“I’d thought of stopping that (readings),” admitted Wills, But he added, “At this point it would make too many people unhappy if we stopped. We’re sort of stuck with it. So ever year it continues, and will as long as we’re reasonably healthy.”
Good times are had by all at these happenings. Musicians sometimes perform. Wills serves refreshments. Harp and Guinness beers and Irish whiskey are dispensed. The event used to be catered, though food now is mostly potatoes, which aren’t too messy.
Wills said the March 17 event starts out slow and is more family friendly early on but that it turns more adult — and ribald — as the evening progresses.
“I play a tape of James Joyce reading from Finnegan’s Wake,” said Wills of the event kickoff. “Then people start readings for four or five minutes before the next person.”
Wills takes pains that readings don’t run on and that guest’s takes remain “crisp and fresh.”
The X-rated parts come nearer the end of the evening. That’s when Joyce’s juicy letters to his wife get trotted out.
“People laugh and find it very entertaining,” Wills said. “They are explicit. They’re funny.”
The store is also notable for its guest appearances by renowned authors. The list includes Norman Mailer (1995), Allen Ginsberg (1994), U.S. poet laureate Billy Collins (2001-03), Gore Vidal (2005) and several Nobel laureates including Francis Crick, a co-discoverer of the structure of the DNA molecule.
Wills is also notable for having driven “Mrs. Santa Claus” in his early model Ford hot rod in La Jolla’s annual Christmas parade for 20 years. It was fun. But these days, he’d just as soon be watching football on the weekend.
An early L.A. Rams fan, Wills has experienced a favorite team leaving its hometown, adding he hope that doesn’t happen here.
“Some teams move,” he lamented. “I hope the Chargers stay in San Diego. I like the team. I like the new coach and general manager.”
DG Wills is open seven days a week. Hours used to be 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. but are now 10 to 7 most days and 11 to 5 on Sundays.
Wills said his bookstore will continue for the foreseeable future.
“We never know how long we’re going to last,” he said, adding, “I have a pretty good time here. There’s always something to do. I never quite get caught up. It’s a good problem.”