The future of the South Bay’s only independent bookstore became a little more secure this week when Coronado gave Bay Books the chance to relocate and keep selling coffee and pastries.
Bay Books, which has been on the brink of shutting down for more than a year, signed a letter of intent to occupy another building on the 1000 block of Orange Avenue. The last step is to have the bookstore’s plans approved by the city.
The bookstore’s chances of survival increased substantially when Coronado changed its parking requirement policy. That change waives parking requirements for businesses that dedicate less than 250 square feet to food service, storage, seating and bathroom use.
This helps Bay Books because it makes money from selling coffee and pastries outside. Without that extra income, the store would not survive, according to owner Angelica Muller.
The bookstore’s troubles began last year when a new landlord bought almost an entire block of Orange Avenue. The new owner raised rents and pushed some long-term businesses out. Bay Books couldn’t afford the rent increase and was ready to shut its doors in February when a novelty shirt store called Bull Shirt closed.
With Bull Shirt gone, Bay Books had the option of moving to its now-vacant location.
But, at the time, Coronado’s Orange Avenue meant that any business that serves food needs to create more parking spaces. That left Bay Books in a difficult spot because the block doesn’t have space for another parking spot and the bookstore can’t survive without revenue from selling coffee and pastries.
Muller initially asked the city to green-light the move by waiving the parking requirements. She said Coronado would lose its small-town feel without a local bookstore; that the store was more than just a business, it was a community resource.
“Having a bookstore is like being in charge of an endangered species,” she said. “You feel a tremendous obligation for the store to survive.”
The low margins and increasing competition from online sales make it harder for her business to survive, she added.
“Having the coffee and food service for us is a most,” Muller told the City Council.
Ultimately, the bookstore didn’t need special treatment.
The new parking rules the City Council adopted allow Bay Books, and any other business, to open on Orange Avenue without having to add another parking space as long as they dedicate less than 250 square feet to food service, seating, storage and bathrooms.
That means that as long as Bay Books’ food and drink operations are small enough, the bookstore can move to its new location while continuing to make money from coffee and pastries.
This does not mean that Bay Books’ survival is set in stone. Muller still needs to file plans with the city. Muller also needs to decide whether the bookstore will manage the coffee cart or if it will continue to work with its current operator. The coffee cart, Café Luis, is a separate business and pays part of the rent to Bay Books, she said.
But for the first time in a long time, the future of the store is in their hands.
“It was incredible,” Muller said of the City Council’s decision to change the parking requirements.
The council had been working on this policy change before the bookstore asked for special treatment. The aim was to help retail establishments along their main commercial corridor be more viable.
“The viability of traditional brick and mortar retail uses has significantly declined with the popularity of online shopping leading more commercial spaces to be filled with counter-oriented eating and drinking establishments,” reads a staff report on the policy change. “Additionally, surviving retail and personal service uses have more recently incorporated ancillary food and beverage services into their business model to remain competitive creating hybrid uses which can be challenging to classify for parking purposes.”
City Manager Blair King stressed that the goal of the policy change is not to bring more restaurants to Coronado but rather to help retail shops survive in an increasingly more difficult business climate.
“We are attempting to facilitate the survival of retail businesses and not necessarily incentivizing food and eating establishments as much as ensuring retail establishments can survive in 2019 in the era of Google and online sales,” he told the City Council.