Like many other patrons on April 22, Laura Lewis was making a pilgrimage to browse the stacks at BookBuyers one last time. The self-proclaimed bibliophile had visited the store dozens of times and bought hundreds of books there. No longer having that experience would be like a personal loss, she said. Bookstores were "holy" places, the Mountain View resident said, and it felt terrible to be losing one of her favorites.
"This is the last positive beacon of Mountain View, and it's being crushed," Lewis said. "It's just sad we're giving up our history like this."
It was a somber event that Friday night as BookBuyers opened its doors to begin liquidating its inventory of more than 300,000 titles. Falling behind on its rent, the business announced in recent days that it needed to shutter its Castro Street shop in the hope that it could reopen in a cheaper location.
That evening, a line of people snaked out the front door as BookBuyers staff tried to limit it to just 50 people browsing the shelves at once. Heading to the back of the store, those customers packed the room to browse shelves that normally were off-limits. Those books, drawn from the store's shuttered San Jose warehouse, were completely unorganized: nonfiction was mixed with fiction; a dime novel was nestled next to a cookbook next to a coffee table volume.
For discerning book shoppers, maybe there was a rare volume buried somewhere in the stacks. But there were also some books that it is fair to say are likely never to be sold. Among those titles with dim prospects were "No Apology," Mitt Romney's 2010 political autobiography; "Blogs, Wikis, MySpace & More," a 2008 how-to guide for social media; and more than a dozen copies of "50 Shades Darker," the less successful sequel to "50 Shades of Grey."
Still, it was apparent from all the customers lugging armfuls of books that people were finding some gems. "I found stuff here that I never thought I'd be interested in," beamed Jack Tolvanen of Cupertino, who described himself as a fan of history books about piracy, exploration and Native American tribes. Over the years, he estimated, he had accrued more than 2,000 books and CDs from BookBuyers, and he said he would be sorry to see the shop close.
Store owner Hotranatha Ajaya says he is holding out hope that BookBuyers can be revived in a new location, likely in a cheaper area than Mountain View. Speaking this week, he said he is continuing to pursue new rental-space possibilities.
Technically, Ajaya said, his Castro Street location wasn't closing quite yet. After hearing from customers who still had large amounts of store credit to use, he decided to schedule one more weekend sale -- a last hurrah. From 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. on Friday, April 29, and Saturday, April 30, he is discounting all remaining books in the store. From 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sunday, May 1, he plans to hold another sale of his warehouse books, this time letting anyone fill a grocery bag with books for $5.
At 7 p.m on May 1, Ajaya is holding a goodbye pot-luck for his customers and staff. At that point, he hopes to be able to say he has secured a new business location.
"I'm very pleased with how well we've done, but we've got a long way to go to cover this transition," he said. "But it looks like we're going to make it."
Email Mark Noack at firstname.lastname@example.org