Earle Peterson, manager of Books Inc., has enjoyed forming bonds with customers during his nine years with the store. After Dec. 31, however, Peterson and his colleagues will have to look elsewhere for employment when Books Inc. on Burlingame Avenue shuts its doors after nearly two decades of business.
Founded in 1951, the store calls itself “the West’s oldest independent bookseller.” When its longtime owner died in 1996, Books Inc. almost went out of business, as national chains threatened its success. After closing 10 of its stores, the new owners built Books Inc. back up. Today, the bookstore’s website declares the business to be “a shining example that independent bookselling can survive and prosper.” While this may be true for its 11 other Bay Area locations, the Burlingame store could not make it.
“It’s gotten very expensive to operate on Burlingame Avenue,” Peterson said. “We just can’t compete with other types of merchants who can afford a higher cost than the average.”
Without Books Inc., Burlingame students will not have a nearby bookstore. B Street Books in downtown San Mateo cannot replace Books Inc.’s market because it sells only used and rare books, and Barnes & Noble lacks the intimacy that independent bookstore enthusiasts seek.
The community has yet to see how Books Inc.’s departure will impact its livelihood. Rent in the Bay Area has skyrocketed, and the bookstore’s closing causes worries about small businesses’ survivals. Cherimoya, a Vietnamese restaurant, and Jougert, a Greek yogurt shop, are two other stores on Burlingame Avenue that recently closed because of rent issues.
“There’s not really a reason for me to go down to Burlingame Avenue now if a bookstore isn’t there,” Burlingame junior Zoie Burt, co-president of the book club, said. “What does that say about Burlingame? That expensive restaurants and brand-name retail clothing stores are more valued than bookstores? … There's definitely an indicator of the shift in what our community values.”