.Books Inc, the Real Bookstore of Santana Row

An old bookstore receipt becomes a passport to the past

An old bookstore receipt from San Jose’s Town & Country Village inspired me to raise the ghosts of Ray Bradbury and Henry Miller.

I recently went to my bookshelf and flipped through a copy of Miller’s masterpiece of travel literature, The Colossus of Maroussi, a copy I’d purchased from a used bookstore years ago. It was probably my fourth copy, following others I’d long since given to friends, so I hadn’t inspected the whole thing front to back. To my utter surprise, I discovered a 1994 receipt from Books Inc. buried in the pages, left over from when the original owner had purchased the book that year. I didn’t even know the receipt was in there.

Located where Santana Row now sits, Town & Country Village was a sprawling complex of detached rustic buildings and flat parking lots. It opened in 1960, with Books Inc. arriving a few years later. By 1966, Books Inc. encompassed 3,000 square feet, yet by the end of the ’80s it was twice that size. I remember wooden shelves and hand-painted signage.

Town & Country provided all sorts of memories, including the very first Chuck E. Cheese’s Pizza Time Theatre. Another building featured ticket counters for all the airline companies, including Pan Am and TWA. San Jose Box Office was the main spot for concert tickets. Old-school restaurants like Birdcage Wok and Brave Bull, as well as Meyberg’s Deli, facing Winchester, were legendary.

I grew up inside Books Inc., so after discovering this ghostly receipt from 1994, I took it over to Doug Stocks, a former employee who now works at Books Inc. in The Pruneyard. He is a colossus of bookstore history. Stocks looked at the receipt and remembered the phone number. We immediately nerded out with memories.

Books Inc. had the largest occult section of any bookstore, although by the time I rolled in, the section was called “New Age.” Thanks to Stocks, who started at the store in the late ’70s, I learned the history of that section. In previous years, the store referred to it as the Theosophy section until they got a cease and desist order from the Theosophical Society.

“After that, we changed it to ‘Maniacal Fringes of Archaeology,’” Stocks said.

Since the occult section occupied a glorious old wooden bookshelf right on the other side of the wall from the office, the employees would often play jokes on the customers. A hole was drilled through the wall, right into the bookshelf, so the employees could then push a stick through the hole and shake the books, ghostlike. They once did this with The Satanic Bible.

“We freaked one guy out,” Stocks said. “He ran out of the store.”

Town & Country Village was torn down in the late ’90s so that millionaires with Hugo Boss shirts and khaki shorts could later walk around in a soulless artificial neighborhood instead. Exploring Santana Row at street level makes it hard to gauge exactly where Books Inc. was located. The buildings are different. Ironically enough, the now-defunct Amazon Bookstore is pretty close to the same spot.

Especially in the early ’80s, Books Inc. carried an unusual variety of science fiction books, often obtaining them from J. Ben Stark, who ran a questionable distribution service, enabling obscure European titles to find their way onto American shelves. I remember the old Dr. Who books, for example.

Ray Bradbury often came to the Bay Area, making the rounds at various places.

“We were Ray Bradbury’s favorite bookstore,” Stocks said. “He would take the train from LA to come here. Him and his wife. Because we had all that obscure science fiction stuff.”

And then there were nuns. A literal truckload of nuns from Carmelite Monastery—over there in Santa Clara by the graveyard—would show up and go book shopping.

“We’d call it the nun truck,” said Stocks. “They’d fit like eight nuns in there. They’d show up like once a month. All they bought were romances. And murder mysteries. It was a big blue truck.”

Despite the presence of Santana Row, the ghosts of Books Inc. in Town & Country Village will never go away. I got the receipts. Henry Miller and Ray Bradbury would have been proud.

Gary Singh
Gary Singhhttps://www.garysingh.info/
Gary Singh’s byline has appeared over 1500 times, including newspaper columns, travel essays, art and music criticism, profiles, business journalism, lifestyle articles, poetry and short fiction. He is the author of The San Jose Earthquakes: A Seismic Soccer Legacy (2015, The History Press) and was recently a Steinbeck Fellow in Creative Writing at San Jose State University. An anthology of his Metro columns, Silicon Alleys, was published in 2020.

1 COMMENT

  1. Thank you for this!

    I worked numerous summers (in the 80s) at that Books Inc.

    It was staffed by a smart, fun, quirky group of people who really knew and loved books.

    The manager once handmade a special box set of the Agatha Christie’s novels — one huge yard-long box. It was *that* kind of place.

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