Say what you will about the extinction of the independent bookstore on the peninsula, author Jonathan Sanchez sees a slightly different future — as a matter of fact, he’s making it. Last week the City Paper columnist and award-winning fiction writer bought Boomer’s Books at 422 King St. from longtime owners Jim and Lee Breeden. With his wife Lauren, a designer with LS3P Architects, Sanchez plans to give the place a spit-shine and turn it into a locus for local literati.
Chapter Two Bookstore met Chapter 11 three years ago, and in 2005 Atlantic Books closed its sole remaining King Street location, both done in by skyrocketing rents and the rising hegemony of big-box heavies like Barnes & Noble and online retailers like Amazon.com and eBay. That left Boomer’s, just across from the new Convention and Visitor’s Bureau on Upper King, holding the torch for independent stores and used booksellers downtown.
Yet the unpretentious location’s prospects have never looked better. Sanchez is no stranger to Boomer’s, or to the Breedens. He’s been working part-time at the store (originally named for the couple’s basset hound, but probably better known for the resident feline, named Purdy) since 1998. And he says he has a few new plans but will essentially be building on a great, if quietly successful, business that the Breedens built over more than a decade at the location.
“A couple of years ago they asked me to take it over, and I wasn’t ready,” Sanchez recalls. “That was before Lauren and I got married. By which I mean before I realized how much money you could borrow.”
When Boomer’s opened in 1995, the stretch of Upper King it occupied was mostly a no-man’s-land, barren of the hip urban character the street now seethes with, devoid of luxe clothing boutiques, tony restaurants, loft apartments, and the throngs of chattering college students who live in the nearby college dormitories these days. Today, where Lower King has mostly fallen victim to a faceless fashion-mall takeover, Upper King still has some of the old character Lower King once sang with.
“It’s a great location,” Sanchez acknowledges. “But you know if you look around there are other mom-and-pops around here. It’s not all Abercrombie & Fitch.”
The building itself is still owned by PrimeSouth Real Estate, Sanchez says. But part of what he bought was an inventory of around 40,000 used books, give or take 10,000, all jammed into a space that looks miniscule from the street but in fact runs the length of the building, stretching back 170 feet to the parking lot behind the store. Of course, at its widest Boomer’s is only about 12 feet, so walking through it is like taking an amble through a book-laden submarine.
Sanchez says he doesn’t plan to make dramatic alterations to the shop, though he and his wife do have some cosmetic fixes in mind — as well as a likely name change.
“Jim and Lee ran a pretty good little business. I’d like to increase the store’s visibility in the community. And we want to have a lot of book signings, especially for local authors. Maybe get some better signage, open up the storefront a little bit.”
The name change is still an open question. Boomer was the name of a basset hound the Breedens owned when they opened the store. “I haven’t really decided on the name thing. Maybe we’ll do a ‘name the store’ contest.”
And for those wondering, Purdy’s still going to be a fixture.
“The cat’s staying,” he says. “Though I’m constantly having to tell people I didn’t name her.”