Chimera takes flight from Palo Alto

Publication Date: Wednesday Oct 27, 1999

Chimera takes flight from Palo Alto

Longtime used-book store driven out by high rent, parking woes

by Megan Lindow

After 30 years in Palo Alto, Chimera Books and Music, a beloved used-book store specializing in out-of-print books and hard-to-find records and CDs, is moving to Redwood City. Owner Walter Martin said the lack of parking, skyrocketing rents and the invasion of big chain stores on University Avenue--where he has kept shop for the past nine years--affected his decision to leave.

The store is known for its impressive selection of arts books and eclectic music. Titles such as "American Literary Autographs: From Washington Irving to Henry James" stand out on the shelves, which include what Martin's customers consider to be one of the best poetry collections in the Bay Area. Three albums rarely found under the same roof by '50s exotica singer Yma Sumac are also displayed on the front table.

"I depend on people to bring me their libraries," Martin said, pointing out that customers who bring in books to sell by the box-full require convenient parking nearby. Martin added that he has noticed a drop in his clientele over the past couple of years because of the lack of parking.

Martin expressed grief over recent changes he has seen in Palo Alto. "The city of Palo Alto has done everything in its power to drive out independent business," he said, adding that because of the chain stores, University Avenue looks like any main street in America.

Martin now jokingly refers to University Avenue as "Rodeo Drive," referring to the chic shopping district in Beverly Hills. "No retailer in their right mind would pay this kind of rent," he said.

Martin plans to close his store on Nov. 15 and reopen in Redwood City the same day. He feels positive about his new location in the City Center Plaza, which is next door to City Hall and across the street from the Redwood City Library.

"I am very excited at the prospect of finally having parking and a sense of community that is no longer in Palo Alto," he said, adding that Chimera will be the same bookstore as ever, just in a more "exciting environment."

Martin emphasized his appreciation for the loyalty and support of his customers, who have included the likes of psychologist Bruno Bettleheim, mystery writer Mickey Spillane, tennis star Andre Agassi and a few Nobel laureates from Stanford.

So far, more than 300 of his customers have signed up for his mailing list, and he said responses to the move have been very positive.

Palo Alto resident Ned Spofford, a customer since 1974, said that although he has no car, he will take the five-minute train ride to the new location. Martin said his new location is a 12-minute drive from Palo Alto.

But Chimera's, and Martin's, departure has also inspired a sense of loss among some of his customers and friends. Faith Bell of Bell's Books, another used-book store located on Emerson Street, called Martin a "tremendous asset to the community."

"Walter is renowned as an intellectual," she said, pointing out Chimera's handpicked selection of eclectic and unusual music. According to Bell, Martin also translated Charles Baudelaire's "Les Fleurs du Mal."

"I'm hoping his new location will be supportive and lucrative, and I want to encourage everyone to follow him there," said Bell.

"It's Redwood City, not Tierra del Fuego," joked Martin. He added that he will be buying and selling books on University Avenue until the day of the move, and is interested in recruiting volunteers to help him relocate.

To contact Martin, call (650) 327-1122. 

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