Demolition of used bookstore draws criticism

A developer plans to replace Feldman's Books and the Gentry magazine building on El Camino Real in Menlo Park with an apartment development. Google photo.

Daily Post Staff Writer

At a time when Amazon and electronic publishing are causing brick-and-mortar bookstores to close, Menlo Park residents are speaking out about the loss of a used book store, Feldman’s Books, which is slated for demolition if the city approves plans to build nine apartments in its place.

The planning commission on Monday (March 11) reviewed a proposal by Prince Street Partners, led by Chase Rapp, that would replace the Feldman’s building at 1170 El Camino Real and the former Gentry Magazine building at 1162 El Camino. Rapp wants to build a three-story building that would have parking on the ground floor and two stories of apartments above it.

“It’s an absolutely spectacular bookstore. If you’re from Portland you have Powell’s. In New York? Well shucks that’s Strand (bookstore). And if you’re from Menlo Park, my goodness, it’s Feldman’s,” said Donald Albers, who is a regular at the store.

Albers was one of seven people who spoke in support of the bookstore at the hearing. Some said that there will be more lost from the demolition of the store then there would be from the addition of the nine apartments.

Resident Adrian Stone quoted Joni Mitchell saying, “Don’t pave paradise to put up a parking lot. But in this case it’s nine apartments.”

“The struggle right now is whether to provide for the common good versus income and housing opportunities for the elite few,” Stone said.

A suggestion

Albers, however, suggested a solution. He suggested Rapp provide space on the ground floor of the new building for the bookstore.

Rapp said that when his company bought the building two years ago, they wanted to raise Feldman’s rent “quite a bit,” but the store couldn’t afford it, so they raised the rent some $400 a month, and put the store on a month-to-month lease.

Rapp didn’t say what Feldman’s rent was, but he said the store isn’t on a triple-net lease, where the tenant pays utilities, property taxes and all other expenses of a property owner.

Commissioner Henry Riggs later repeated Albers’ suggestion of adding a bookstore to the new building, and commissioner John Onken appeared to be searching for a way to keep the building, which was first built in 1905.

Once a grocery store

The building used to be home of Martin J. McCarthy Groceries and is one of the few turn-of-the-century buildings left standing in the city.

However, neither the Feldman’s building nor the former Gentry building built in 1910 qualifies to be part of the state or federal historical registries. According to Senior Planner Corinna Sandmeier, the buildings could be part of a city historical registry if there were one.

Onken and Riggs both criticized the plans for the building, with Onken saying the building looks too blocky and is not a good replacement for the two vintage buildings that are currently there.

“(You have) the challenge of replacing a dear old friend, so it better be better than anything else on the block,” said Onken. “And I don’t see that at the moment.”

Rapp has not filed a formal application to build the project, so it is not known when the commission will review the project again.

1 Comment

  1. “Common good” here are homeowners sitting on millions of dollars of equity paying taxes on 10% of that, and the “elite few” is really the next generation just trying to hang on.

    Bookstores are great. Put it on the ground floor.

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