Tue09022014

Business & Real Estate

Ready to turn over a new page : After 24 years in Palo Alto, bookstore


Elllie Van Houtte/Town Crier
The owners of Know Knew Books on California Avenue in Palo Alto are closing shop and relocating to State Street in Los Altos.

A longtime Palo Alto business recently found a new lease – in Los Altos and on life.

Know Knew Books and its variety of 40,000-50,000 used-book titles will soon call 366 State St. home after 24 years on California Avenue in Palo Alto. The store, co-owned by Bill Burruss and Cate Nelson, is slated to open its doors at the former site of Alabasta, The Flower Shop by early October.

Reached by the Town Crier, Nelson and Burruss said they chose to relocate to Los Altos after learning that a lease renewal on California Avenue included a significant increase in the store’s monthly rent.

The duo found their new location “after just walking around” in downtown Los Altos, Burruss said. During that brief visit, the business partners discovered a commercial district with more feet on the street than they originally anticipated.

“I wanted to go to a place where books were loved,” Burruss said. “When we got there, much to our surprise, we found Los Altos to be very active and receptive to us.”

That same day, Nelson called her soon-to-be new landlord and started cementing Know Knew Books’ relocation.

New chapter

Burruss conceded that the store’s lease in Los Altos wouldn’t have been possible as little as a year ago, if not for a new lease on his business’ life – courtesy of Nelson.

Just one month away from being forced to close for good because of financial hardships, Burruss – then the store’s sole owner – had a chance encounter with Nelson.

A frequent shopper and book enthusiast, Nelson learned of the store’s financial challenges and approached Burruss about a possible stake in ownership. She said she soon found a “kindred spirit” in Burruss and talked with him for four hours during their initial meeting. Shortly thereafter, Nelson came aboard, and the rest – as the saying goes – is history.

“I said, ‘I want this store to stay around,’” Nelson recalled. “There’s no other store like it. … The idea of it not being here was not acceptable to me.”

Burruss noted that Nelson’s partnership quickly breathed new life – and energy – into Know Knew Books.

“I was in my last month here when Cate just came in here with no experience – just a love for books,” he said. “She saved my butt. I’m 68 years old, and I don’t know what I would’ve done. I will always think of her as an angel.”

Nelson said she wants Los Altos residents to consider the store more than just a place to buy gently used books in a variety of genres. A fan of costume jewelry, Nelson said she plans to dedicate a corner of the store to showcase and sell some of the 1,500-2,000 pieces she’s collected over the years. In addition, the store plans to sell used DVDs and CDs. Teachers and students, she said, will receive store discounts.

“We hopefully have something for everybody here,” said Nelson, adding that the store will offer free Wi-Fi to customers. “When the store opens, I think people will be blown away by the stock of used books we have, too.”

Burruss said residents can expect to see scheduled events like open-mic poetry readings, as well as nonliterary events like the occasional pet adoption fair and live music performances. He added that the store is also known for “unofficial” events, such as encouraging young artists to sit and create art using the store’s readily available easel or inviting the aspiring musician to play acoustic guitar in front of an audience for the first time.

All are welcome, he said, provided they ask management first.

“It’s a community store, a place that’s available to people who want to teach kids to crochet or whatever they have to offer,” Burruss said.

“It’s about life – a place to do things in real time,” Nelson chimed in. “We want the community to know there’s a place in the city that’s available to them.”

For more information, visit knowknewbooks.com.

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