Altamont Books, formerly known as Goodenough Books, will close May 31, leaving the well-educated community with no store devoted to new books. The closest bookstores are in Pleasanton, which has chain stores, as well as the independent Towne Center Books.
"It's very sad that Livermore will be left without a bookstore of its own," said Towne Center owner Judy Wheeler. "It's a blow to thecommunity."
The store's closure and the loss of jobs for six employees is the result of a rapidly changing marketplace, Altamont owner Laura Ziock said. She has been losing
$5,000 a month after taking over the business in September 2003 from founder Susan Mayall.
Ziock, who has two grown children with husband Klaus-Peter, a physicist at Lawrence Livermore Laboratory, may have to sell her house to pay off the store's debt. She alerted 6,000 customers by e-mail this week that the store would close and added, "I wish this did not have to happen."
The then-named Goodenough Books thrived in the 1990s, becoming one of the East Bay's largest bookstores, but business declined over the years in part because the store was located in an old shopping center. Ziock worked at the store for two years as a clerk before buying it. If she hadn't purchased it, Mayall had planned to close it.
One problem involved Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, the institution that is largely responsible for Livermore's many residents with doctoral degrees.
Soon after she bought the store, Ziock was told by lab officials that they would no longer purchase scientific books from her because her husband worked at the lab. Sales to the lab amounted to 15 to 20 percent of the store's business, she said.
"Staying in business without their support has become impossible," Ziock said.
The lab has a conflict-of-interest policy that prohibits the purchase of items from people whose wives or husbands work at the facility, lab spokeswoman Lynda Seaver said. The regulations are set by the Department of Energy. The lab became aware of the problem when Ziock's husband, adhering to lab policy, filled out forms about a possible conflict of interest.
"They were trying not to show favoritism, but what they did was cause the store to fold," said Hut Landon, executive director of the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association. "There is not a large margin in selling books, and none of my clients could survive the loss of 15 percent of their business."
Ziock also attributed the store's closure to the "unwillingness of the community to support a local, independent bookstore. Individuals have been wonderful and supportive, but Livermore as a community seems uninterested in having a local bookstore. Amazon.com, Costco and the chain bookstores seem to have claimed local business."
Although the marketplace is changing, the store's impending closure is not necessarily part of a larger trend, Landon said. Although the market is flat and some stores do close each year, about an equal number of new stores open.
The group's membership has stayed roughly the same for the last 15 years. There are about 240 independent book stores in Northern California, about 150 of which are located in the Bay Area. The association's membership has a combined estimated annual sale revenue of $100 million.
"Unlike places like Amazon.com, we contribute sales taxes to the state (about $10 million a year from Northern California stores)," Wheeler said. "People forget what sales taxes pay for and wonder why things such as potholes and roads are not fixed."
Meanwhile, to clear inventory, all books and non-book items at the Livermore store will be sold at a 25 percent discount. This will continue through the end of the month. Beginning in May, workers will start returning books to publishers and selling fixtures. The store is located at 1601 Railroad Ave.
"It is very difficult to take over an established business and one that is closely associated with one person," Mayall said.
"Another problem is that Livermore has always emphasized housing and there has been very little emphasis on promoting downtown. It's not a climate that is conducive to small businesses."