Redwood City’s Hidden Bookstore Gem

Bookstores around the country are disappearing. Fortunately, this gem underneath the Old Courthouse is still around.


Liam Lee

All of these books are donated to Encore volunteers who sort, price, and sell them.

Liam Lee, Staff Writer

In downtown Redwood City, underneath the beautiful glass-domed old courthouse which is now a history museum, “Encore Books on the Square” is a hidden cove of used books. Donations fill the walls of the cave-like bookstore, with cozy, enveloping rooms sprawling further that it seems from the outside. My name is Liam Lee, and I’m a senior at Woodside High School. Encore Books is, in my opinion, just a nice place to be, facing opposite the Fox Theater, Starbucks, and Courthouse Square.

I like this place a lot. When you enter, you’re greeted with handwritten posters and table displays, and usually, a nice lady near the entryway.

Encore Books is entirely staffed by volunteers who price, sort, and sell the books.

My name is Wally Jansen, J-A-N-S-E-N,” Jansen introduced himself. “We like each other, we like the books, we love the museum; we raise funds for the museum; everything we make goes there. I haul boxes of books, I also sort most of the books that come in the store.”

It’s kind of dorky to say this, but this place is special because reading is special, something that Woodside English teacher Lisa Prodromo can attest to.

“Reading helps you relate to people around you, the world around you, people you might never meet,” Prodromo said. “I think it creates empathy, and you can put yourself in different situations that you might not ordinarily, like you can put yourself in someone else’s shoes; I hate to use such a cliche phrase, but that’s, that’s really it, and for me, that’s, I mean that’s, that’s why, you know, that’s why I love literature.”

All of the books here are reused, they’re all in good shape, and they’re extremely cheap.

“You can get books that you can write in,” Prodromo continued. “Like, if you have a library book, it’s not yours. I like to own it, I like to write in my books, and the Kindle has taken that away from me as well.”

At used book stores like Encore, you can find books with writings in them already.

“People walk in and say, wow, I had no idea this was here!” continued Jansen. “And so, we always enjoy surprising people, by sending them farther and farther and farther into the store; it’s like a dungeon.”

You can find books on whatever you’re passionate about. Woodside sophomore Stephanie Alfadel agrees.

“I’ve purchased a few books on art, and I’ve purchased a few sets of postcards, American impressionist paintings,” said Alfadel. “There’s a large range of books to choose from, [and] it’s affordable. Thank God, it’s affordable. I love books. I have gone there with a few friends before, and if I’m downtown before it closes, and I don’t have much to do, yeah, I’ll walk in, I’ll browse, I’ll read what they have, I’ll maybe talk to the different people that work there; it’s a very relaxed and inviting environment, so it’s not hard to just walk on in and have a good time.”

Me too. I love to go and browse books there. There aren’t many other places around here that are so quiet, respectful, and seem like they’re from a different universe like Encore. Bookstores like this undoubtedly have value to the community.

“They were little places you hung out and met other weirdos,” said Prodromo.

However, bookstores around the country are disappearing. Rising rent, lower wages, and the easy accessibility of books online are sure to hinder surviving bookstores. For many people who aren’t literature teachers, it’s tough to find time to read.

“I think it’s a terrible trend!” lamented Prodromo. “It’s awful! You know, I hate it, I miss having that, you know, people would go on a Friday, and be like, ‘I don’t have anything to do, I’m gonna go to the bookstore,’ and you’d go to the bookstore and look around at books. Oh, Ray Bradbury would be so angry. He’d be so mad.”

Amazon has made bookstores pretty much obsolete.

“I feel almost like I am somewhat to blame, like many of us, for the death of bookstores, which is the convenience of Amazon,” continued Prodromo. “When I want to get a book, now, most of the time, because there aren’t any bookstores, what do I do? I order it on Amazon. It comes in the mail. I could not tell you where a bookstore is near my house. There’s a lot of Mexican restaurants and a Target but not a lot of bookstores.”

For now, because of support from the San Mateo County Historical Association, Encore remains a benefit for appreciative Redwood City bookworms.

You can find so much there, that there’s always gonna be a pleasant surprise regardless of whether you came in looking for something or not.”

— Stephanie Alfadel

“Even if you walk in with a particular idea or book in mind, you might not always find it, but you’ll find something else absolutely amazing,” argued Alfadel. “You can find so much there, that there’s always gonna be a pleasant surprise regardless of whether you came in looking for something or not… it’s always a pleasant experience.”

Bookstores are important community fixtures.

“Well, I’m really biased, I, I love books, and I love the tactile experience of books,” continued Jansen. That’s a real reward, both from the point of preserving the books, because otherwise if we didn’t take them they might very well end up in the dumpster. And so, we preserve books and make them available to people, rather than destroying them.”