After almost two decades of enduring a changing industry and local marketplace, independent bookstore Books Inc. announced it will be shuttering its location on Burlingame Avenue.
President Michael Tucker confirmed Wednesday, Oct. 3, the company’s plans to close its storefront at 1375 Burlingame Ave. in early 2019, likely following a holiday and going-out-of business sale.
Though the parent company continues to thrive despite the threat to retailers posed by the trend toward online sales, Tucker said the decision to close had more to do with the transition taking place in downtown Burlingame.
“It’s just the reality of what goes on, that a low-margin business like books cannot compete for occupancy with the big boys, the national brands,” said Tucker, nodding to the corporations such as Apple, Lululemon or Pottery Barn which also occupy nearby storefronts.
For his part, Tucker said going out of business in Burlingame after 18 years was not due to a rift between the company and its landlord, who he credited for allowing the bookstore to pay below-market rates for years.
“They are really good folks and there is no reason for me to think that they should be losing money,” said Tucker, of property owner Karim Salma.
Tucker acknowledged the Burlingame location’s revenue generally stayed flat over the years, which was ultimately considered untenable when considered in the context of the larger company’s operational cost.
Books Inc. operates 10 other locations across the Bay Area, with three stores in San Francisco, two in San Francisco International Airport, one location each in Mountain View and Palo Alto plus some East Bay storefronts.
Tucker pointed to the rising staff costs, tied with minimum wage hikes in San Francisco and Mountain View, as a cause for concern for the company which factored into the decision to leave Burlingame as well.
“It’s hard when you have rising staff costs and occupancy costs and sales are not going up commensurately,” he said.
Juan Loredo, president of the downtown business improvement district, said the company’s decision to leave is similar to the other tough choices faced by other local retailers.
“The internet kind of paved the way for these smaller places and retail shops to leave because everyone is online shopping,” he said.
Loredo said though the difficulty faced by some retailers is not an indictment on the city’s core commercial corridor.
“It’s still a busy place. People are dining and shopping. And we’d love to see these smaller businesses stay, but it just seems they can’t sustain their rents,” he said.
Tucker meanwhile said the local forces squeezing the business were a more significant factor in the decision to close than the pressure placed on book retailers by the popularity of Amazon or other online competitors.
Conversely, Tucker said he’s witnessed an uptick of popularity with a younger generation of book buyers who appreciate the experience of frequenting a store and relying on the expertise of staff.
“What they appreciate about a bookstore is that they are able to get advice and meet with people who have read the books,” said Tucker.
He said severing the deep ties built with Burlingame over the nearly two decades will be one of the hardest parts of the store’s closure.
“We’ll miss it. The interaction is one of the best things,” he said.
Tucker took time to note though that the company plans to preserve its connection with local schools and organizations in Burlingame which the company has partnered with over the years.
To that end, the company plans to relocate its book clubs to the Mountain View and Palo Alto locations and is aiming to retain as much of its staff as possible, with an intent to allow workers to relocate to other stores.
One of the Burlingame organizations closely tied to Books Inc., the Burlingame Library Foundation, expressed its appreciation for the company’s lasting support in a prepared statement.
“Their closure is a great loss for residents and visitors alike who enjoy strolling down Burlingame Avenue. Books Inc. and its wonderful staff will be sorely missed in this community,” said foundation co-president Cindy Montgomery.
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