Twenty years after moving to their State Street location in downtown Los Altos, owners Dennis and Linda Ronberg are looking to sell Linden Tree Children’s Recordings & Books.
Dennis said several factors played into the couple’s decision to bow out of the popular children’s bookstore by the end of the year.
“It was a convergence of forces,” Dennis said.
“The economy really has very little to do with our decision,” Linda added. “The store sales are down, but so are our expenses. So we are actually in pretty good shape. Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Borders and big box retailers do impact us, but they mostly do not carry most of the books that we have. We are just ready for a change - and we’re tired!”
Long hours, age (Dennis and Linda are both 64), an urge to spend more time on outside activities also were factors.
The Ronbergs worked with their landlord to make it possible for them to continue, despite the lower sales figures.
“It will be business as usual through the end of the year,” Dennis said last week. “We hope to find someone to buy it. We will feel good about leaving a legacy instead of letting it dribble off into nothing.”
“It has not been an easy decision for us, as Linden Tree has been our life for 25 years,” Linda said. “And we really do hope that someone will want to continue with our vision of Linden Tree as a community resource that helps parents find the best in children’s books and music, and that is a welcoming place for children,” said Linda, who also has a long career as a preschool teacher.
The Ronbergs will leave behind a strong reputation among customers that ranged from parents of young children to school districts.
“We’re probably the widest regional draw of anyone around here (downtown),” Dennis said. “We bring in people from Morgan Hill, Pleasanton, San Francisco - not too many stores can say that. ... We’re one of only three children’s (books and recordings) stores left in the Bay Area.”
The Ronbergs got their start in the early 1980s after they attended a performance in Vancouver by a children’s artist named Raffi.
“We really enjoyed him," Dennis said. "We said, ‘Wow, there’s a possibility here.’”
The two were instrumental in jump-starting the singer’s career, promoting him and organizing his early shows in the Pacific Northwest and in the San Francisco Bay Area. Meanwhile, they began selling children’s recordings on records and cassettes, for two years from their home in Tacoma, Wash. In 1983, the Ronbergs moved from Washington State to Menlo Park to be close to Linda’s parents. A year later, after working from their home for that year, they opened Linden Tree on First Street in Los Altos. The “Linden” was a hybrid of Linda’s and Dennis’s names. The Ronbergs continued to promote Raffi, who was “a big draw for the store,” Dennis said.
The Ronbergs also introduced Canadian children’s singer Charlotte Diamond to local audiences and raised money from concerts for the Los Altos-based non-profit group Music For Minors. The Ronbergs have stayed involved in Music For Minors, which trains docents to teach music in schools.
Initially, the Ronbergs sold only music in their store.
“People would come in and say, ‘You should have a book or two,’” Dennis said, which prompted the Ronbergs’ foray into books, with the couple - and their children - choosing the titles that would fill store shelves. Store manager Lynn Ratliff also was a vital member of growing the store.
The business continued to profit over the past two decades despite the emergence of Crown Books, Barnes & Noble, Amazon and the Internet.
According to Dennis, one advantage was that customers “found books they couldn’t find any place else.”
But community involvement also was a success factor. The Ronbergs organized midnight parties with the arrival of every new “Harry Potter” book. They arranged Wednesday children’s concerts in their store’s courtyard.
Loyal members of the downtown Los Altos Village Association, the Ronbergs initiated and grew the KidZone component of the Los Altos Arts & Wine Festival into one of the most popular attractions of any such festival.
“I couldn’t even begin to count their contributions (to downtown and the community),” said Beth Miller, owner of Marion Jackstons on Main Street and a partner with the Ronbergs in the Los Altos Village Association. “We don’t want them to go.”
“Although we have loved having Linden Tree and it will be like giving up our child to let it go, we really are ready for this change,” Linda said.
“The next step (for us) is kind of exciting, because we don’t know what we’ll be doing,” Dennis said.