When Shirley Muller moved to Coronado from Mexico City 30 years ago, she didn’t realize the impact she would create in the community. Even though her background was in book and magazine distribution, her first venture at 1029 Orange Avenue was a flower shop that didn’t succeed. She then decided to capitalize on her love of books and publishing background and converted the space into Bay Books. The original store was one-third the size it is now, and she kept expanding through the years as the business grew. By her side before the opening, and still there today, is Store Manager Barbara Chambers who helped put the first books on the shelves. She has seen a lot of changes through the years from a tiny space to a more spacious venue and now back to a reduced store, as its future hangs in the balance. When asked her favorite genre of books, Barbara answered that with a history degree, she leans that way on her selections, but also enjoys all non-fiction books.
“People come here from all over the world. We even have customers call us from the east coast to order books to have waiting for them when they arrive here on vacation,” she comments; and continues, “Our business is approximately 50 percent from local residents and 50 percent from tourists. We pride ourselves on customer service, being able to recommend books, and offering local delivery service for seniors. We get to know the locals and vacationers who come into shop every time they are in town,” emphasizes Barbara.
With the advent of the internet and online companies like Amazon, small book stores like Bay Books were hit hard, so when Shirley died 15 years ago, the bookstore struggled, but Angelica Muller, her daughter-in-law, became more involved in the business. “Both my husband’s family and my family have a passion for books, and my sister is a writer,” she says. “After my mother-in-law passed away, we kept the store running because of our love of books, and it covered the bills, running smoothly with Barbara managing it.”
About six years ago, Angelica’s husband told her that the store was losing too much money and it was time to close the shop. “So, I quit my job and said I’ll try to turn it around. If not, then we can close it,” she remembers. To help attract customers, she decided to diversify and added a variety of product lines including Papyrus cards, pashminas, toys, and a variety of gifts. As sales of those items began to grow, they soon accounted for about 20 percent of revenue. “Even though we offer gifts, we are still primarily a book store,” says Angelica. Adding gifts turned out to be the answer to help profitability and the store was able to thrive.
When Kleege Enterprises bought most of the Orange Avenue block in which Bay Books is located, they were offered a smaller space in the back with a rent increase. Angelica says, “At that point, we were getting ready to close again because we couldn’t afford the new lease.” They also felt that they needed a space with window visibility from the street to attract the tourist crowd, who might miss them if they were tucked back in a courtyard. “I was given a lifeline when Donna from Bullshirt approached me and asked if I would take over her space just down the street because she wanted to retire. We also had a local resident who came to me as an angel investor to help save the store.”
They were planning to close at the end of this month but have extended their lease to see how things come together. “Right now, we have reduced our space and are operating by buying only the bare minimum of books to keep going. Kleege has offered us options and says they will help us work with the City. We are currently preparing a proposal for the City to see if we can make this happen,” she says.
Mike Mosier from Retail Insite, who is working with Kleege Enterprises on leasing for the block, says, “Ownership has been in discussion with Bay Books on multiple alternatives for many months. A few options that were initially agreed upon did not end up working for various reasons. We are optimistic that something can work out, but obviously it needs to work for all parties including Bay Books as they look to revamp their business and size and offering.”
“Timing is critical for us,” comments Angelica, and continues, “We can only survive in this mode for a short time. We need to be moved and ready to open before the busy summer season for this to work.” She is anxious to build her inventory back up. She laments “It’s sad now to see kids run to the back of the store and cry because the kid’s play area is empty. There are generations of kids who have loved this bookstore.”
They currently have 10 – 12 part time employees, many of whom are military wives, retirees and students. They all have one thing in common, a love of reading with diverse tastes in literature, who can personally recommend books to patrons. “We pride ourselves in our staff recommendations, we were the first in the county to do that,” Angelica comments.
Sue Ducazau is one such employee who has provided personalized service for ten years. Previously, she worked at Restoration Hardware when a Coronado resident bought a throw and was disappointed that no boxes were available. When Sue said that she also lived in Coronado and would bring the box by the next day, the lady asked her to drop it off at Bay Books where her sister was the manager. They hired her on the spot based on her customer service. “I am the animal lover in the store and the first one to grab the dog books,” she laughs.
Angelica is proud that “Bay Books is part of Coronado’s history. We want to stay and continue to be part of this community that has distinguished itself as a patron of the arts.” Her message to the community is this: “If we stay, we need everybody to support us. With the rental increase, that’s the only way we’ll make it. We are hoping everything aligns so we can stay.”