Redwood City’s “Hidden” Bookstore Is Quite a Find

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The Encore Books on the Square has been called Redwood City’s “hidden gem,” a label that fits a place located in the basement of the San Mateo County History Museum on Courthouse Square. Visiting the bookstore, which is virtually underground, is a bit like entering a Prohibition-era speakeasy: Go down a ramp and though a tunnel-like entrance that ends at a set of heavy doors. If anyone questions you, tell them “Pat sent me.”

In this case, Pat is Pat Young, a fitting surname for a 99-year-old who is definitely young at heart. A volunteer at the bookstore, Young was feted at a birthday party in her honor in February, an event that also marked the 20th anniversary of Encore Books. It is operated by The Funders, a group of volunteer book lovers who gather, sort, catalog, price and sell new, used and rare books to raise money for the San Mateo County Historical Association, which runs the museum. Almost all the books sell for 25 cents to $2.50.

“Ever since I was a little kid in Burlingame I’ve wanted to be a helper and that I have been,” Young told the crowd of about 40 people at the birthday gathering. The plastic lei she sported was a light-hearted accent to the occasion, as Young tossed off several one-liners that drew laughs or applause. She told her audience that she had had a “good life, despite having spinal meningitis, being tossed through the windshield in a car crash and going through a divorce. I’m not sure which was worse.”

Young is the Funders Poster Chairman, meaning she fashions decorative themes at the bookstore, which consists of five large rooms housing more than 35,000 books in its collection. There are also three large spaces for sorting by the 22 volunteers who staff the bookstore five days a week. Young, a retired teacher who taught seventh and eighth graders for 34 years, should pose for a poster for recruiting volunteers, a field she knows quite well. The Red Cross and Mills Hospital, where she was in charge of the Candy Stripers program, are listed on her résumé. A fellow Red Cross volunteer introduced her to the bookstore in the mid-1990s and she has been one of the most active store volunteers ever since.

Young became a volunteer with the Funders when the History Museum was located at the College of San Mateo.  Founded in 1971, the Funders’ main functions then were annual book sales to raise money for the museum. The bookstore opened in February of 1999, the same year the museum debuted in the 1910 courthouse in downtown Redwood City. The book sales have resulted in $20,000 a year going to the San Mateo Historical Association for the museum, the Woodside Store in Woodside and the Sanchez Adobe in Pacifica.

Young said she “grew up with the museum.” That’s because the museum founder, Dr. Frank Stanger, and her parents were friends. Stanger would frequently visit her family while he was working to establish the museum, which he did in 1941. Young wants to set the record straight about Stanger, who looks very serious in the many photos of him featured at the museum. He had a great sense of humor, Young maintains, and even performed in musical comedies for the First Methodist Church in Burlingame where he also sang in the choir.

Those who can’t find what they want at Encore Books can walk a few blocks to the Redwood City main library on Middlefield Road, where a volunteer group called Friends of the Redwood City Public Library sells donated books to raise funds for such programs as Traveling Story Time and Authors at Local Schools. The store occupies a much smaller space, but still has a good selection gathered by 50 volunteers who put in 6,000 hours a year scanning and pricing books.

This story was published in the May print edition of Climate Magazine.