Stephen Ellison

Bookshop Santa Cruz Saved by Community After 1989 Quake

Thursday is the 30th anniversary of the Loma Prieta earthquake, which changed the Bay Area forever. Downtown Santa Cruz was one of the hardest hit areas, and one family-owned business there said it owes its survival to the community.

Bookshop Santa Cruz was among several buildings in the downtown area condemned after the 6.9 magnitude quake that killed 63 people.

The book store had been on Pacific Avenue since 1973 and was "part of the community," owner Neal Coonerty said.

The Oct. 17, 1989, earthquake severely damaged the brick building where Bookshop Santa Cruz was located. It was still standing but too dangerous and would need to be demolished.

"So, the idea was we lost our business, lost our income, maybe lost our home," Coonerty recalled. "What do we do?"

City officials gave Coonerty two days to remove what he could from his beloved business.

"We went on the radio, the public radio here and sort of said, 'We have two days, we’re asking for volunteers. But, honestly, the city is making you sign a paper that says if you get trapped in the rubble with earthquakes happening, we will not come to rescue,'" Coonerty said.

The next day, 400 people lined up to sign waivers, put on hard hats and help save the bookshop.

"We really, literally were saved by those people," Coonerty said. "For two days, they pulled everything out of the store, put it in boxes, dusted it off and put it together."

Bookshop Santa Cruz is still in business today, with Coonerty’s daughter, Casey, now running the store.

"The other part of this that he's not saying is he's an eternal optimist," Casey said about her father. "There were a lot of people who told him it couldn't be done, that he couldn't save the store, he couldn’t rebuild it. And because of who he is and his optimism, they could get it done, and the community (came) together. That is the reason why it happened."

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