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Logos, a beloved Santa Cruz bookstore, falls victim to a changing retail economy

Posted by Yijy8kNUMO on July 19, 2017

SANTA CRUZ >> For the first time since the summer of the moon landing, Santa Cruz will soon be without Logos, the used-book emporium that has been part of the downtown landscape since the days of the Pacific Garden Mall.

In about six weeks, after a long everything-must-go liquidating sale, Logos will shut its Pacific Avenue doors for good.

John Livingston, the store’s owner and operator for its entire 48-year run, said that he put the store up for sale a year ago. Facing little interest and no serious offers, as well as sharply declining revenues, he has decided to close his business.

“I would love to have sold the store,” said Livingston. “It’s a major loss. I feel horrible for Santa Cruz. But I have had two things to think about: One is my employees, and the other is the void it’s going to leave in this town, culturally.”


There are a number of factors that inevitably led to the closing of one of Santa Cruz’s most well-known downtown businesses, not the least of which was Livingston’s desire to retire. At age 70, he said, he would have probably put the store up for sale even if business were booming.

But the remarkable stability that Logos has enjoyed for close to half a century had begun to dramatically erode in recent years for reasons having to do both with the general shakeout of retail nationwide (and bookstores in particular) and with factors unique to Santa Cruz.

For many years, Logos had thrived on revenues generated during two specific periods of the year: the summer tourist season and the holiday shopping season. Livingston said that the store was able to stay open during the slower months of the year on the strength of the summer and the holidays.

But two years ago, that familiar pattern began to change. In 2015, the usually dependable summer revenues didn’t materialize. “I figured that maybe that was a fluke,” said Livingston. “I decided to wait it out another year.” Those hopes were dashed when 2016 proved to be another slow summer.

The downturn was also reflected in the store’s inventory. Logos has always supplemented its used-book profits with CDs, DVDs, vinyl records and new books. But those sidelines were volatile, up one year, down the next. On the other hand, the backbone of the business remained strong. “Used books were rock solid,” said Livingston. But in 2015, even sales of used books began to fade.


Logos opened its doors in the fall of 1969 on Cooper Street, just across from the old Cooper House, and just around the corner from Bookshop Santa Cruz, which had opened three years before. Logos and Bookshop quickly established a kind of symbiosis between new and used books in an emerging college town that was still getting used to the recently opened UC Santa Cruz.

The store was just about to mark its 20th anniversary when the Loma Prieta Earthquake struck in 1989. The Logos building suffered extensive damage and was red-tagged. Livingston and his staff moved their operation to an industrial building once used to manufacture ice, near Laurel and Chestnut streets. Fortunately, book lovers followed and Logos did a brisk business in its temporary space. Three years after the quake, Logos was able to move into its current space on Pacific Avenue.

Logos and used-book stores like it have always had to depend on an unusual business model in that its customers are also generally its suppliers as well. Livingston said that the store’s core clientele has remained strong. It’s the second tier of customers — the occasional customer — that has become an endangered species.

“Browsing in a bookstore was once considered a form of entertainment,” he said. “I think that’s going away, particularly with the younger generation. They’ll come in, looking for specific things and you can do that here. But the point of the store is to spend some time here, browse and maybe discover something you never would have found otherwise.”

It’s that habit that has, like so many other consumer habits, been fundamentally changed by online commerce. Amazon and other online retailers have also been exerting downward pressure on prices. “Our core customers are fantastic,” said Livingston. “It’s that next level that has abandoned us.” Livingston said he also believes that the nature of downtown Santa Cruz has changed as well, with more and more local residents, for whatever reason, avoiding downtown.


Livingston’s employee base has also been stable — some of his employees have been at Logos more than 20 years (Logos has about 25 employees, down from its mid-1990s high of about 35). But housing prices in Santa Cruz County have made it increasingly difficult for people to live locally on the wages they can earn in retail. In the last three years, Livingston has lost nine highly trained book-buying specialists, many of whom could no longer to afford to live in Santa Cruz.

Livingston is also the owner of the Logos building and, he said, if he were primarily concerned with income, he would have closed Logos long ago to bring in a potentially more lucrative tenant into the roomy, two-floor Logos space. He said he is just now beginning the process of finding a new tenant.

“I didn’t get into this to make a lot of money to begin with,” he said. “I figured as long as I wasn’t bleeding emotionally or financially, it was a livable situation.”

Until it wasn’t. Livingston is looking forward to stepping away from the bookstore to play music and golf. Until then, he and his employees will be busy trying to get rid of the store’s massive inventory — he estimates to have from 150,000 to 200,000 books — and remain open, at least until Labor Day.

“For me, it’s bittersweet,” he said. “I’m happy to be done. I was hoping that maybe there was some high-tech guy out there with lots of money who always wanted to run a good bookstore. But it didn’t happen. It was just my time to move on.”

Source: Santa Cruz Sentinel, July 18, 2017 8:11pm PST

Author: Wallace Baine, Sentinel Entertainment Editor

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