The Martha’s Bookstore Experience

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A stroll around Balboa Island would not be complete without two things: A Balboa Bar and a visit to Martha’s Bookstore.

Martha’s Bookstore, one of only two independent bookstores in Newport Beach, has been pampering customers with a uniquely personal shopping experience since 1989. Just as a Balboa Bar is not just any ice cream, Martha’s is not just any bookstore.

Like most businesses, Martha’s Bookstore started with a dream. In 1987, sisters Stephanie Thomas and Kathy Wales were getting to ready to leave the peninsula after bike riding along the beach.

Stephanie said, “I had a dream last night that we opened a bookstore on Balboa Island.”

Kathy answered, “I had that same dream.”

The sisters had talked about opening a business for at least a decade before that day on the bike ride.  Whether by coincidence, or destiny; both Wales’ and Thomas’ lives were forever altered by their shared dream.

Although both women were entrenched in raising their children and working (Wales at an advertising agency and Thomas at Delta Airlines) both women sold their houses and moved to Balboa Island where they opened Martha’s Bookstore. The store was fittingly named for their mother, Martha Smock, who was the editor of Daily Word magazine and the author of six books.

Twenty-one years later, Wales and Thomas still are very passionate about their store and the relationships they have with their customers.  “We like to think of ourselves as the Cheers of bookstores.”

When asked how many customers they know by name, Wales answered “There isn’t enough room in the Newport Beach Independent.”

The best way to enter Martha’s Bookstore is to meander. The second you walk under the white iron trellis and onto the brick path leading to the store entrance, you will feel as if you are being transported to a quaint cottage miles from the stresses of your own life.

The path is lined on one side with painted white shelves containing a variety of books and on the other side with small tables filled with books. The entire walkway is accented with greenery and blooming flowers.  To add to the peacefulness, music is softly playing from somewhere above as you browse the selections set outside.

Adjacent to the entrance of the store are two green Adirondack chairs partially framed by a large burst of bright hanging bougainvillea.

The inside of the store is charming, with ivy painted on the walls in one area, pink and white stripes in another. The selection of books is exceptionally diverse and in addition there are unique gift items. In the back there is a separate room dedicated entirely to children’s books along with some games and toys.

Wales and Thomas believe many things set them apart from a typical bookstore: personal recommendations, gift wrapping, offering a sample cup of tea from Republic of Tea to every person who walks through the door, cookies at the counter.

“When people go shopping, they are not just looking for a book, card or gift.  They want an experience.  They want to have fun,” Kathy said.  Martha’s Bookstore is a great place to meet with friends, have fun and buy a book.

A little framed sign hanging on the back wall of the shop nicely sums up the sisters’ business statement and life philosophy, which seem to be one and the same. The sign is handwritten in beautiful calligraphy: “The purpose of Martha’s Bookstore is to help change negative thinking to positive thinking, to help find courage and faith, joy and meaning in life and to help us love one another.”

Martha’s Bookstore is at 308 1/2 Marine Ave.; 949-673-7185.    




Martha’s Bookstore Staff Picks


“Ape House” by Sara Gruen

“The Help” by Kathryn Stockett

“The Elegance of a Hedgehog” by Muriel Barbery

“Little Bee” by Chris Cleave

“The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” by Stieg Larsson


Non Fiction:

“Eat Pray Love” by Elizabeth Gilbert

“The Grand Design” by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow

“Glass Castle” by Jeannette Walls

“Have a Little Faith” by Mitch Albom

“The New Sugar Busters! Cut Sugar to Trim Fat” by Leighton H. Steward



“Look Who Is Coming…A Lift-the-Flap Book” by VaZu Kids

“Mockingjay” by Suzanne Collins

“The Red Pyramid” by Rick Riordan

“Zen Ghosts” by Jon J. Muth

“Dork Diaries 2: Tales From a Not-So-Popular Party Girl” by Rachel Renee Russell





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