Sonoma remembers Lilla Weinberger, who died this week at 77
Lilla Gilbrech Weinberger, Sonoma bookstore owner, political activist and organizer – and friend to many – died on March 24 following a fall down a flight of stairs. She was 77.
Those who knew her said she was fiercely loyal.
“When she was in your corner, she was in your corner for life,” said poet Ada Limón, a Sonoma native.
Limón was 15 in 1991 when she walked across the street from the apartment where she lived with her parents, knocked on the door to newly opened Readers’ Books and asked the owners – Lilla and husband Andy Weinberger – if she could work for them. Limón was the bookstore’s first employee. She worked there off and on and during summers in her college years, until she was 22.
It was Lilla who was “instrumental” in Limón choosing a path to become a writer.
“Because I was so young, she was the person who encouraged me to find poetry, to see writing as a career,” said Limón, now 43.
Lilla Weinberger was encouraging and supportive of many writers over the years. She was a book lover her whole life, working in two libraries in her youth – Pasadena Public Library as a teen and then the Huntington Library in San Marino.
Jude Sales, Readers’ Books manager, said she and Weinberger had similar tastes in books and a shared concept of what they like in a bookstore. When Weinberger was transitioning out of the purchasing role for the bookstore, she and Sales sat down with a buyer and independently went through the same catalogue, marking which books they would buy for the store. They matched on all but one.
“We were sisters of the page,” Sales said.
Sales is close with both Andy and Lilla Weinberger – she described them as her best friends – and said when the couple was living in Los Angeles during the time Lilla was the executive director of the National Foster Youth Institute they would stay with her during their visits to Sonoma.
“People come to the bookstore because of them, not the bookstore,” Sales said.
There has been a steady stream of people coming to the bookstore at 130 E. Napa St. since Lilla Weinberger died, dropping off notes, muffins and other goodies to eat, and just to find comfort in their grief over losing Lilla.
A flower arrangement at the front of the store welcomes fans of Lilla to share in a journal their well-wishes and write about “a book that Lilla introduced you to.”
Lilla and Andy Weinberger met when Andy was 11, he said. He had a crush on her then, but she was six years older and, well, “that wasn’t going to happen,” then, he said.
Lilla Weinberger had “thousands of friends,” Sales said, and had a sense of adventure that took her to different parts of the country, and even the world, on a whim.
Early in their marriage, the Weinbergers rented a room in their house to help pay for the mortgage. One of the renters was a Japanese student they developed a close bond with who would later invite them to Japan to attend her wedding, and paid for the journey with money she left behind in a U.S. bank account.