When Kevin and Yvonne Greenlee in 1998 told their book distributor's marketing director, Judy Wheeler, that they wanted to sell the downtown Pleasanton bookstore they'd owned for just five years, they had an instant buyer.
"I'd been in retail all my life," Wheeler said. "I majored in retail at Purdue University and I'd always wanted to own my very own store. Also, I didn't want Pleasanton's only bookstore to close."
This Saturday, she'll do the same for Livermore, opening a second Towne Center Books (Vol. 2, as she calls it) at 2375 Railroad Ave. It's a fantastic location right across from Livermore's two-story parking garage, within an easy walk from the Bankhead and Livermore 13 Cinema on First Street and next door to Livermore's popular Cream, known for its specialty ice cream sandwiches.
Wheeler -- whose husband Bob Ditter, a retired publisher's representative, also works in the bookstore -- quips that just as her Pleasanton store customers often settle in with drinks from nearby coffee shops, she looks for her new book shoppers to be carrying Cream's ice cream delights.
The Livermore store will have only a "soft" opening this weekend. A grander opening and ribbon-cutting will be held later in October.
"I'm opening a second bookstore in Livermore for the same reason I bought Towne Center Books in Pleasanton 21 years ago," Wheeler said. "Many of my customers come from Livermore and have asked for a bookstore there." She will be splitting her time between the two stores making sure both are well stocked and customers' special orders are fulfilled.
Altamont Books, formerly Goodenough Books, closed in 2005 after operating in Livermore for 25 years.
Wheeler notes that while e-commerce, namely Amazon, continues to take the bulk of book orders, the "indies" -- as independent bookstores like Wheeler's are called -- are in a revival mode.
"We've grown by some 400 either new owners or new bookstores," Wheeler said "That's pretty good for just Northern California."
Wheeler said people enjoy the sense of community that they find in bookstores like hers. The joy of just being in a place with people instead of on a phone or computer is coming back. "Customers love our events and they like to come in and just chat books with us," she said.
Wheeler points out that reading an actual book you're holding in your hands rather than on a screen is better for your mind. There are a lot of studies that show you remember more this way. It's also easier to go back to reference passages with a physical book.
Towne Center Books, both in Pleasanton and now Livermore, also offer a full calendar of book-related events. These include guest authors "Read It and Eat" luncheons and arranging speakers for schools and business meetings. The store also offers complimentary gift-wrapping.
"Amazon's domination involves more than just independent bookstores," Wheeler said. "There is growing awareness among shoppers that if you don't use it, you'll lose it. Your favorite places won't be there for you to browse. People are starting to get that as they see places going out of business. That's true in downtown Pleasanton, even in our mall. It's true everywhere."
Wheeler is enthused about operating both stores.
She added, "I get to see my friends when I'm working and I don't have to commute. I meet important people and famous people and read good books. We have wonderful customers and it's fun to go to work. It's a good life."