BookBuyers bids goodbye to Mountain View

Castro Street bookstore can't afford city's high rent, owner says

Castro Street's plucky used bookstore, BookBuyers, may have a future -- but it won't be in Mountain View. Unable to find a new space in the area, BookBuyers owner Hotranatha Ajaya said he must begin closing down his downtown store this weekend, but is hopeful that he will be able to reopen in another city.

This Sunday, April 17, will be the last regular day of business for BookBuyers at its Castro Street location, Ajaya said. The following weekend, the bookstore will host a "warehouse sale" offering marked-down prices on books to pare down the store's 300,000-title inventory and raise as much money as possible for a future move.

Beyond that point, exactly what happens to BookBuyers is up in the air, Ajaya said. In recent weeks, Ajaya has searched for a new home for his business in Mountain View, but he couldn't find anything in his price range. He is now mulling options farther away, including Morgan Hill, Fremont and Hayward.

"We cannot afford anything in Mountain View anymore," Ajaya said. "I just don't have the kind of money to pay what the rents are in the city. It's a sad thing."

A downtown mainstay for more than 25 years, BookBuyers has suffered in recent years from dwindling sales and mounting pressure from online competitors. Despite its shoestring budget, BookBuyers maintained a sterling reputation among bibliophiles and many considered it one of the Bay Area's finest second-hand bookstores.

Since last year, Ajaya has been upfront with customers that the bookstore was struggling to stay afloat. In a customer newsletter last April, he warned the shop would need to close unless it saw a turnaround. At the time, Ajaya promised to make a last stand to save the business, and he and his staff redoubled their efforts to transform the bookstore into a social fixture with events, visits from local authors and game nights. While the store saw more foot traffic, those visitors didn't generate enough sales to change the store's financial outlook, he said.

The store also hit other setbacks. For years, BookBuyers operated a side business selling books online from a San Jose space previously used as a mattress factory. The building had a string of leaks and flooding problems last year that ruined thousands of dollars worth of books, Ajaya said. Facing a rent increase, Ajaya decided to move out of the warehouse and sell off a large inventory of books to a Reno bookseller. But the buyer never showed up to pick up the books, and Ajaya ended up having to pay $10,000 to transport and dispose of hundreds of shelves and books.

Since closing the San Jose operation, Ajaya explained that it was extremely difficult to fold the online business into the Mountain View store. In recent months, the business began falling behind on rent, and Ajaya decided he needed to find a new location. Saying he is already working essentially as a volunteer, Ajaya says he would like to turn BookBuyers into some kind of educational nonprofit if he could find the right space for it.

"I really want a big place because I want to do so much more," the 73-year-old said. "If I can't find something soon I'll have to retire, and I'm too young to retire."

Earlier this week, Ajaya had hoped to sign a lease for a corner location in Morgan Hill. Unfortunately, he learned on Wednesday that the landlord declined his offer. He and his staff are now mulling options for what to do. The lease for the bookstore's location expires at the end of May, but Ajaya says it will likely take a full month to move out all the store's inventory.

"They're good books, but what are we going to do with all of them?" he said. "We've got plenty of stock for a new store ... but if I'm not able to find another place I'll have to look at selling everything."

On Sunday, BookBuyers started a GoFundMe campaign with a goal to raise $35,000 for a potential move. As of Wednesday, the effort had generated $4,300 from about 70 donations. If the store cannot reopen, Ajaya promised he would give all the money raised to a charity, perhaps one associated with the local library, he said.

Despite the succession of bad news, Ajaya remains hopeful there is still some way to keep BookBuyers alive. It comes down to a matter of personal morals, he said. He can justify closing down the business only if every possible effort has been made to save it, he said. If necessary, he says he will take a part-time job in order to pay his staff for their accrued paid time off.

"If this business goes bankrupt, then I will too. I want to be able to say that I've done everything I can," he said. "Until I get stopped and can't go forward, I'm going to satisfy my moral requirement to do everything I can and not give up."

Sunday, April 17, will be BookBuyers' last regular day of business before closing up for the week. The store will reopen for a warehouse sale from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Friday, April 22, and from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, April 23-24.

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37 people like this
Posted by middle class
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Apr 14, 2016 at 12:50 pm

Gentrification at work. They'll probably be replaced by a ritzy restaurant that we can't afford.

4 people like this
Posted by vkmo
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Apr 14, 2016 at 2:32 pm

I bought books for my grand-daughter here. The store has great books. I was hoping to go back to buy more books for her here, but if the store closes, I won't be able to do that again!!! I feel sad!!!!

18 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Waverly Park
on Apr 14, 2016 at 2:47 pm

A sad goodbye to another beloved Mountain View small business.

Rose Market, the bagel place next to RiteAid on Grant, Mintons, and many more than I can't remember. They may have closed for different reasons, but they all took a little bit of MV charm with them.

Another one bites the dust!

25 people like this
Posted by MVmom
a resident of Blossom Valley
on Apr 14, 2016 at 2:49 pm

Thank you BookBuyers for all you have given to the community over the years! It is a very sad day to see you go. Not sure where else our family will go to fill the void you will leave. You will be missed!!

15 people like this
Posted by MBtHi
a resident of Castro City
on Apr 14, 2016 at 3:02 pm

Why don't the new people get out of Mountain View? This is so disturbing and sad. I'm a Mountain View native and it's just really horrible what the new people have done. Disgusting. Take your google and go google yourself 200 miles from here, in Central California, Nevada or Arizona. Why ruin this town?

8 people like this
Posted by Regina
a resident of Rengstorff Park
on Apr 14, 2016 at 3:03 pm

Link to BookBuyers GoFundMe campaign:
Web Link

44 people like this
Posted by MV resident and worker
a resident of Rengstorff Park
on Apr 14, 2016 at 3:58 pm

@ MBtHi, I suppose I should apologize for being born in the 80s, for seeking employment, for exercising my rights in the Land of the Free to move to the wonderful city of Mountain View and make it my home as well, and for trying to start a family here.

By the way, I shopped at Book Buyers, you know. I couldn't have done that from the states of Nevada or Arizona that you'd like to banish me to!

14 people like this
Posted by Rich
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Apr 14, 2016 at 4:06 pm

I'm sorry to see BookBuyers close, but have you ever tried to find a specific book in that place? They can't tell you whether they have it or not. Somebody on the staff *might* know, if you get the right person, or you might get directed to one or several locations to try to find it, but I don't believe they have ever had a modern inventory system. Not everyone who wants to buy a book just wants to browse and buy some book they run across. My humble opinion is that the place could have been profitable and been saved a long time ago if they just could direct customers to what they were looking for or quickly determine that they did not have a copy.

35 people like this
Posted by middle class
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Apr 14, 2016 at 4:07 pm

I don't blame the new residents. I blame the greedy landlords that are taking advantage of the situation. Contrast what is happening in Mountain View to Los Altos where landlords seem to be keeping the family-oriented businesses.

21 people like this
Posted by 3rd Generation Resident
a resident of Shoreline West
on Apr 14, 2016 at 4:20 pm

middle class, it is clear you have not followed the story. The landlord has been supportave of the business and worked with owner. This came from people buying books (even used online) you wanna get made at someone, blame it on they changed the landscape of buying books. Not the landlords, nor Gentrification. You have come to enjoy the services (Police & Fire make up over 50% of the budget) and those services are paid for by taxes. No businesses, no residents, no services.

10 people like this
Posted by Kate
a resident of another community
on Apr 14, 2016 at 4:39 pm

Oh Book Buyers, I'll be sad to see you go as I found so many treasures in your store over the years! You were always on my list to visit when it came time to buy gifts at the holidays ~ your calendar selection just cannot be beat! I hope you can stay somewhere near here because I will definitely go out of my way to come shop at your new location.

12 people like this
Posted by Open Borders
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Apr 14, 2016 at 5:35 pm

@MBtHi - "Keep the migrants out." "My culture is superior." You are like the right wing Nazis in Germany now.

10 people like this
Posted by Amelia
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Apr 14, 2016 at 7:09 pm

Ajaya, the fates may be pushing you down a path you didn't set yourself this time, but please don't thisnk this is THE end. It's just an end. If you don't want to retire, don't. New doors will open if you look for them...

As for people here blaming what's happening on Gentrification, you are wrong. Books have moved digital. Just like music and movies. Most people like myself enjoy having hundreds of books on my e-reader, not cluttering up my home. This is how things are. It is what it is.

11 people like this
Posted by Maggie
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Apr 14, 2016 at 8:33 pm

One of two reasons we ever bothered returning to Mounting-Rent View after we were forced to move by greedy landlords was BookBuyers. Printers Inc. is a nice bookstore, and it might be enough to bring us to GoogleTown, but if they close, we'll probably never set foot in the place again.

15 people like this
Posted by Brisbanite
a resident of another community
on Apr 14, 2016 at 9:54 pm

Please consider moving to Brisbane. We are a quirky and diverse community that values local businesses. And there's a great storefront available across the street from our huge post office.

5 people like this
Posted by Sad Dad
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Apr 15, 2016 at 8:04 am

My son and I have found the best books here over the years. He loves to watch the clock spin. I bought him many books here and it was a regular stop on our weekend outing to Mtn View to watch the trains. I still prefer holding a book to an ereader and many of the titles here aren't available digitally. No sweetness at this parting, just sorrow.

5 people like this
Posted by MV
a resident of Rengstorff Park
on Apr 16, 2016 at 12:08 am

Sad to see the store close after so long ! Thanks for keeping it going so long. Let us know where you move to.

3 people like this
Posted by Carlos
a resident of another community
on Apr 16, 2016 at 12:29 pm

It is not clear that the Ajayas have the funds to open another store. They are hugely in debt, have no financial backers, have no business plan, but have a lot of pipe dreams. The odds are that if they opened a store it would not be financially solvent and they would simply run up more debt. The owners are good people, but have little business is time for them to shut things down and gracefully retire...

15 people like this
Posted by Bill Hough
a resident of another community
on Apr 17, 2016 at 10:34 am

I am one of those who is disappointed by the closure of Book Buyers, not least because I still have some store credit which will vanish if they do not relocate. I must disagree with the characterization of the owners as people with "little business acumen" since they have managed to keep the business going for 25 years. What actually happened is:

1. The tech boom has made rents on Castro unaffordable.
2. In the past few years, all bookstores have suffered with the rise of ebooks and a general decline in reading. (see Borders)
3. Governments are artificially pushing up wage costs making it more difficult for low-margin business to compete. Those who feel that this helps the poor might have second thoughts in a few years as we get higher prices, more automation and higher unemployment.

Combined with some bad luck like the San Jose disaster, and it is not hard to understand the tough times at Book Buyers.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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