Publication Date: Friday Dec 11, 1998
COMMUNITY: Printers Inc. will shut down in MarchIncreasing rent, competition from online booksellers lead to closure of bookstore
by Charlie Breitrose
Printers Inc. Bookstore has been a California Avenue institution for 20 years. The independent bookstore has offered Palo Altans a variety of unusual and hard-to-find books and magazines. Thursday, co-owners Gerry Masteller and Susan MacDonald announced the closure of their Palo Alto location at the end of March. The store will be fully stocked and operational until then, and there are no plans to close the Printers Inc. bookstore in Mountain View, Masteller said. The Printer's Inc. Cafe next door to the California Avenue store, which has separate ownership, also will remain open.
Masteller said the decision to close the Palo Alto store, the original location, was made just before Thanksgiving.
Although the large chain bookstores and warehouse stores, such as Costco, have had an effect on their business, Masteller said the primary reasons for closing were an increase in rent and the decreasing viability of the California Avenue business district. He said the scarcity of neighboring businesses that are open in the evening limits the bookstore's walk-in traffic. If a realistic opportunity arises to open a store at another location in Palo Alto, Masteller said, he will pursue it.
Masteller said he feels some of the big chains have engaged in unfair business practices. He has joined a group of 25 other independent bookstores nationwide to form American Booksellers Association, which has filed a lawsuit against the Borders and Barnes & Noble chains.
Masteller also blamed competition from online bookstores.
"Each of the (chain bookstores) has taken its toll," Masteller said. "But Amazon and the Internet is the biggest threat to the physical bookstore."
Dave White, head of the store's magazine department, said he has heard customers say they use the online booksellers.
"I hear a lot of people find a book and say, `I'll go get it off Amazon.com,'" said White. "They like the prices of Amazon, but they like our service."
Connie Pratt, a Stanford resident, said she comes to Printers Inc. for "everything under the sun." She also takes advantage of the other services, such as author readings.
"I remember when they had the readings in the front area," Pratt said. "It was a very personal, small, wine-and-crackers sort of thing. It's still much the same, it just has grown."
These popular events have sometimes drawn so many people that the line for book signings has snaked out the door and down the block, Masteller said.
White said he started working at Printers Inc. 10 years ago because he could read the store's wide selection of foreign language magazines. White said the store does a lot of business in French, Italian, German and even Serbo-Croatian magazines.
"All I have to do is speak a little bit of (the customer's) language, and their whole face lights up," said White, who was a language major at Foothill College. "I can tell them their magazine is in, in their own language. I don't think they would do that at Borders."
Many of the store's loyal customers come to Printers Inc. to avoid the big chain stores.
"I come here mainly for the neighborhood atmosphere," said Vaughn Forsyth, a College Terrace resident. "I don't like the trend of larger and larger corporations taking over."
Dick Johnson, a 35-year Palo Alto resident, said he would probably go to Kepler's in Menlo Park or Stacey's in downtown Palo Alto when Printers Inc. shuts down.
"I don't like the sterile feel of the big chains," Johnson said. "I don't like to feel like I'm giving my money to the big groups."
Masteller said he fears the closing of Printers Inc. may have an adverse effect on "the avenue." But California Avenue Area Development Association president Ronna Devincenzi said she thinks the effect will be minimal.
"I think the other stores have established their own clientele," Devincenzi said. "But I am very sad to see that Printers Inc. is closing. It's an institution."