[Best of Silicon Valley 1999]

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Hall of Fame

Recycle Books

A denizen of the local literary scene gives repeat performances for a living

By Michael Vaughn

Shopping at a used bookstore may seem like so much dumpster-diving to some people, but some people don't understand the charm of finding a copy of Goodbye, Columbus with the imprint of the University of Connecticut Library, or a Henry James book with a 1946 Christmas greeting from Aunt Genevieve to her dear niece Victoria, or a copy of your own first novel with the draft of a reader's poem scrawled over the title page.

Patrick Hayes certainly understood it when he founded Recycle Books in the early '70s, and so have the thousands of bibliophiles who have kept it alive longer than any other independent bookstore in the downtown area. The store had a near-death experience last year when Joan Hayes--who took over the place when her husband died in 1984--conducted a going-out-of-business sale in anticipation of a much-deserved retirement. The cavalry arrived in the persons of Mercury News staffers Cynthia and Eric Johnson, who bought the place and moved it from its longtime digs at Fourth and Santa Clara streets to its new home on The Alameda.

Photograph by Scott Hinrichs

Reread, Reuse, Recycle: The window decoration on Recycle Book's storefront was a landmark on Santa Clara Street for a decade before chipped paint forced an overhaul in the mid-'90s.

Beyond location, however, the place hasn't changed much--still those great nailed-together bookshelves, still piles and piles of tome-age in every conceivable category (roughly estimated at 30,000 to 80,000 volumes), and still a couple of cats (Zenda and Gertrude) to keep the place homey.

"The cats are easily the most popular employees," says 20-year employee Craig Texera, with some chagrin.

The most popular Recycle cat of all was Ernie (named after Hemingway), who passed away in 1995.

"I have to admit," Texera says, "that cat was just outstanding. He was a pro, schmoozing with the customers, working the store."

Until the '70s, the new building was a popular roller rink; the bookstore counter is located where the snack bar used to be, and if you retreat to the art studios behind the store you can see the broad black stripes that marked the skating oval on the hardwood floor.

Cats and history aside, however, it's just a real good place to find real cheap books--and to give old books a chance at a second life.

1066 The Alameda, SJ 408.286.6275

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From the September 30-October 6, 1999 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 1999 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.

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