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April 13, 2005

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Publication Date: Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Closure of Wessex bookstore in Menlo Park almost certain Closure of Wessex bookstore in Menlo Park almost certain (April 13, 2005)

By Renee Batti

Almanac News Editor

After three months of trying to find a buyer to take over his highly regarded 30-year-old used bookstore, Tom Haydon will almost certainly close Wessex Books in Menlo Park by May 15 or earlier, he said on Monday.

"In the three months of trying to sell (the store), I've learned a lesson: I underestimated the amount of training it would take for a possible buyer to take over," Mr. Haydon said.

With his lease on the building set to expire in mid-May, Mr. Haydon said that, at this late date, "I think it's extremely unlikely that I'm going to find a buyer who is qualified and I'll feel comfortable turning the store over to."

That's bad news to hundreds of book lovers who, through the years, experienced the thrill of discovery when they walked through the threshold into the well-aged building at 558 Santa Cruz Ave.

"It's so sad," said Molly Molloy, who's been browsing and shopping at Wessex since she moved to Menlo Park about 15 years ago. Now a Mountain View resident and employed by the Hoover Institution library, Ms. Molloy bemoans the loss of a "great local resource."

"A lot of people at my library know Wessex, and are really sad (about the pending closure)," she said last week. "I'm really sorry to see it go -- it's the best in (its) area."

Although the business is profitable, Mr. Haydon announced in January that 30 years is enough; it's time to do something else. He founded Wessex in 1975, and has worked long hours -- sometimes seven days a week -- for those three decades.

He said he talked to a lot of people -- "several dozen at least" -- who expressed interest in buying the store. But after learning about the long hours and other factors involved in running such a business, "nobody really wanted this job," he explained.

Mr. Haydon has been discussing the possible sale of most or all of his book inventory to a single buyer, but as of Monday, everything was still up in the air, he said.

The store has about 75,000 books and 6,000 record albums. It specializes in literature, history and university press titles in the humanities, and also has a number of hard-to-find authors and first editions.

It also has a Web site, which today accounts for about one-third of Wessex's business, Mr. Haydon said.

Ted Bache of Stanford Weekend Acres near Menlo Park said he has used the Wessex Web site, but also has enjoyed heading for Wessex when he wanted to see what was on the shelves in specialized areas of interest: aviation, transportation, and Mesoamerican history.

And once he was there, the browsing instinct often led him to other sections. "One of the fun things about cruising Wessex ... was you could easily come across works and authors from other eras," he said.

"In a way, that's how I got into Thornton Wilder. His name had come up in something I'd read, then I came across him at Wessex -- said 'hey!' and walked out with four of his books."

Ms. Molloy said she has often found special out-of-print children's books at Wessex. She also has picked up books that would be hard to find in other bookstores such as non-current fiction and books on topics such as history of the West.

"It's a good place to shop for yourself and for gifts," she noted. "And, it has good vibes."

Menlo Park author Jeanne DuPrau said that she has roamed Wessex's "always interesting stacks" over the years, although she more often buys new books to support other writers.

The author of the award-winning "The City of Ember,"Ms. DuPrau said in an e-mail: "What is most valuable to me about (Wessex) is the collection of good literature -- not just fiction but letters and biographies, books by and about people from earlier times that you can't find any more in bookstores or sometimes even in libraries.

"I have found some treasures there. I hope the right buyer for the store shows up and keeps it going."

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