Ames Bookstore in downtown Grass Valley — which at one time claimed to be one of the largest used bookstores in Northern California — will be closing its doors for the last time on Monday.
Owners Adele and Gary Bunker have announced plans to retire, and they’re liquidating the store’s inventory in an online auction.
The Bunkers have owned the bookstore, located at 309 Neal St. in Grass Valley, since 2005. The business, which began in Whittier, Calif., in 1968, was moved to Grass Valley by owners Dick and Dolores Slavin in 1988.
In a 2005 Los Angeles Times article, Ames Bookstore was described as “a trip into the past” and a “genial throwback” with 200,000 to 300,000 volumes.
“Books reproduce in the night when we’re not here,” the owner told the reporter at the time.
Late last year, the Bunkers began looking for a buyer to take over and keep it open, but no one came forward.
“We made a real effort to get the word out, hoping someone would step up and take it on,” Adele Bunker said. “I’m still hoping someone will.”
But she also hopes that people will participate in this weekend’s auction, which starts Saturday on www.bidcal.com.
Dealers and former customers will have an opportunity to search through the remaining inventory in the shop, but it will not be possible to purchase individual titles. The books are being sold in auction lots consisting of at least one shelf at a time.
“For five or 10 dollars, they could get 50 books in any genre they like,” Bunker said.
After the auction, the Bunkers plan to retire. Adele will focus on her painting, and husband Gary will continue doing missionary work in Romania, Haiti and Mexico.
“We really felt like we should’ve ended by the end of last year,” Adele said. “I’ve been praying for seven months about the situation at the store. Through the process, I’ve been able to let go and get ready to go on with my life.”
But Ames Bookstore will be missed. Eghan Thompson, an artist who grew up in Grass Valley, said he’s sad to see Ames close.
“The people who ran the place were the first real bibliophiles I met,” Thompson said.
“There was a day where it was made clear to me that I didn’t have to hurry, pick out a book and leave,” he said.
“I was welcome to grab a book, sit down, read it, and that was OK.”
Thompson believes that local businesses like Ames are culturally important parts of this community. In some cases, they might need to be protected by local government, he said.
As the economy shifts and some industries become less profitable, Thompson says that rent control or subsidies may be necessary to keep community cornerstones in place.
“Grass Valley and Nevada City have both founded themselves on being quaint little towns and part of that is having good bookstores,” he said. “But as rent goes up, the businesses that created this culture have to go.”
Ames Bookstore is one of many small operations to close in recent years as the bookselling industry is increasingly dominated by online powerhouses like Amazon.com and big-box stores like Barnes & Noble.
Eric Tomb, another local bookseller, said that in the late 1990s there was a movement to designate Grass Valley as a “book town” due to the large number of small, independent bookstores in the area. At the time, he said, there were 16 or 17 of them — but several have closed over the years.
Grass Valley has a used book scene, Tomb said, but it’s not as strong as it once was.
“The thing that makes a bookstore survive in this time and place is being able to live on very little money,” he said.
Nicole Dillard, a bookseller at the nearby Booktown Books co-op, says that this community’s high number of bookstores might help drive tourism by enticing book collectors into visiting.
“The more bookstores we have in this area, the more people come here as a destination for bookhunting,” Dillard said.
“(Ames is) one of the oldest bookstores around,” she added.
“We’re kind of sad to see them go.”
Ames Bookstore is no longer open for retail sales, but their online auction will run from Saturday until Tuesday. Interested parties can place a bid by visiting www.bidcal.com.
To contact staff writer Dave Brooksher, send emails to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4230.