The countdown is on for Menlo Park's used bookstore Feldman's Books to find a new home after a proposal to redevelop the site was approved by the city's Planning Commission on Feb. 22.
The developer, Prince Street Partners, gained approval to build a new nine-unit, three-story residential building at the property, 1162 to 1170 El Camino Real. Three units are designated for rent below market rate, two of which the firm promised as part of its agreement with the city for a nearby development at Santa Cruz Avenue and Merrill Street. The architecture involves prefabricated modular building designs.
Jack Feldman, owner of the longtime used bookstore at the site, said that he did not yet have a new location lined up for his shop, but was hoping to relocate somewhere within a few blocks of its current location – "maybe Santa Cruz Avenue or somewhere thereabouts," he said.
He added that there are probably five to six months before the old building is demolished and encouraged anyone who has a good location in mind to let him know. They're looking for a spot with around 2,000 square feet that's "hopefully somewhat affordable."
"I think the community wants us to stick around," he said, adding he feels he's got about five more years of running the bookstore before he retires.
In a letter to the Planning Commission, developers Chase Rapp and Brady Fuerst said that they offered Feldman guaranteed tenancy to find time for a new location, brought potential new locations to Feldman's attention and offered to relocate the bookstore to their new retail site at 556 Santa Cruz Ave. for below market rate rent, and offered rent relief during the pandemic.
"Unfortunately all of our efforts have been rejected," they wrote.
However, Feldman is open to taking up the developers on their offer to relocate the avocado tree at the bookstore to his own yard.
In the Planning Commission's deliberations Monday, one point of debate was whether the current buildings on-site can be considered historic, and therefore worthy of certain legal protections.
The property has two buildings on it that are more than 100 years old: The 1162 El Camino Real building, which was built in 1910 and was the former home of Doughty's Meat Market, and the 1170 El Camino Real building, now Feldman's, which was built in 1905 and once housed Martin J. McCarthy Groceries. A peer review of a historical resources evaluation for the property found that the property did not meet the criteria for state or federal historic preservations but would be eligible at the local level.
However, Menlo Park does not have its own registry of historic resources, so adding it to a local registry isn't an option. Other analyses also agreed that the property did not qualify for historic preservation. Most recently, in December, a 2016 report surfaced that argued that the property was historic under state guidelines. Ultimately, the consensus was that the new arguments did not trump the existing findings that the buildings were not historical.
When commissioners asked, though, Rapp said he would be happy to develop a plaque to install on the new building to describe the historical significance of the current buildings on-site.
Commissioner Chris DeCardy said he felt that the City Council should take up the question of how to evaluate buildings for historical significance at the local level, and favored writing a "very strong letter" to the City Council telling them "they have essentially dodged a huge headache for themselves and should not let this happen (again)."
"This is not a good way to do public policy and not a good way to make a decision," he said.
Other commissioners disagreed that the building had historical significance. "I think the building itself is not noteworthy," said Commission Vice Chair Michael Doran. "There are lots of buildings like this around the Bay Area and other parts of the country."
Rapp said that his team hoped to receive building permits in August and build the development in 10 to 14 months.
In the meantime, Feldman's is seeding another legacy. Aidan Stone, an apprentice of Jack Feldman's, said he has been learning the used bookshop trade and plans to purchase 1,000 books from Feldman to start his own used bookstore sometime this year in San Francisco's Sunset neighborhood.
The forced relocation of Feldman's Books, plus the recent death of San Francisco's City Lights bookstore icon and poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti are a "catalyst" for moving forward with his own bookstore, which he plans to call Stone's Books, he said.
"With COVID hopefully on the decline, there's potential for a renaissance, a newfound appreciation for these kinds of spaces," Stone said.
He's hoping he can open his store around the time that the new Feldman's reopens, he said.