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.