Looking Back: Downtown San Jose’s Bookstore Row (part 1)

Bob Sidebottom's Comic Collector Shop on E. San Fernando Street. Photo from 1976 Willow Glen High School yearbook.

Image: Bob Sidebottom's Comic Collector Shop on E. San Fernando Street. Photo from 1976 Willow Glen High School yearbook. 

When my best friend Kevin and I were about thirteen, we learned that there were very cool comic book stores in downtown San Jose.  Living in the Willow Glen area, we figured out that we could take the 64 bus from Lincoln and Curtner Avenues to downtown.  This was about 1973, and you can still catch the 64 at the same stop. The shops we were interested in conveniently lined East San Fernando from Second to about Fourth Streets.  From west to east, there was San Jose Comic Art on the northeast corner of Second St., Comic Collector Shop in the middle of the block, then one door down was Twice Read Books, and then on the southwest corner of Third St. was Recycle Bookstore.  Kitty corner from Recycle on the northeast corner was Underground Records, and then a few doors further down was San Jose Book Shop.

Our favorite shop was the Comic Collector Shop at 73 E. San Fernando.  The owner was a cool, kinda long haired guy named Bob Sidebottom.  Bob seemed to spend most of his time behind the counter smoking and listening to jazz.  Bob also printed his own underground comic books, and he once told me that if I ever got good enough he’d let me contribute.  My primary collecting interests were old Mad comic books and magazines, horror comics from the ‘50s, Silver Surfer comics from the '60s, and the underground comics of artists like Robert Crumb and Vaughn Bode.

The north side of E. San Fernando St. between Second and Third Streets. Twice Read Books is visible in the center of the photo. To the left of them is the former location of the Comic Collector Shop.

Image: The north side of E. San Fernando St. between Second and Third Streets.  Twice Read Books is visible in the center of the photo.  To the left of them is the former location of the Comic Collector Shop. Photo ©Ralph Pearce

Next door to the Comic Collector Shop was Twice Read Books.  They also went by the name Woodruff and Thrush, and in the phone book they also ran under Aardvark Books so that they’d appear first.  I was in the store one day when a customer brought in a stack of old Mad magazines to sell.  He set them on the counter and the old shopkeeper said he’d give the guy $5.00 for the stack.  As a naïve teenager who had little knowledge about business etiquette, I openly told the customer that I would give him a better price.  The owner just stared at me for a moment then angrily told me to, “Get out of my store!”  Startled and embarrassed, I walked outside then just stood there for a while digesting what had happened.

When I got home that night, I told my parents what had happened.  My dad, a cop with the city of San Jose, laughed.  He said that he’d gotten kicked out of the same shop when he was a kid, probably by the same guy.  His crime: trying to get two comics for the price of one by placing one inside the other.

Further Reading from the California Room: