Johnson and his wife, Cynthia Johnson, were working at the Mercury News in 1998 when they rolled the dice on the opportunity to buy Recycle Books, which was opened in downtown San Jose by Pat and Joan Hayesin 1967. With no experience managing a bookstore, the Johnsons relied on Joan Hayes — Pat had passed away years earlier — to be their guide and customers to be their teachers.
“How to pick particular titles for sections is an art that you learn over years,” Eric Johnson said. “Thankfully the business was forgiving enough for me to make a lot of mistakes and learn from the customers. I let the community tell me what kind of bookstore they wanted.”
Recycle Bookstore bounced around downtown San Jose for its first few years before settling into a longtime home on East Santa Clara Street between Third and Fourth. But when the Johnsons couldn’t get a new lease from the building owners, they moved the store west to The Alameda. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
“Downtown is a good, lively spot, but it’s really hard to bring books to,” Johnson said. “New stock coming in is the life’s blood right there. But if somebody’s cleaning out their house and they have 10 boxes, going downtown, getting a hand truck and lugging it around a block isn’t easy.”