Decades-Old Nolo Press Might Move Out of West Berkeley

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Saturday August 02, 2008 - 09:21:00 PM

Nolo Press, which has operated out of a renovated clock factory in West Berkeley for the last 30 years, plans to move from its location at Ninth Street and might relocate from Berkeley altogether, company officials said Friday. 

The company has lost its lease and the building’s current owners—the Genn family—have put the property on the market, Bob Dubow, Nolo’s chief financial officer, told the Planet. 

Dubow added that Nolo had outgrown the 20,000-square-foot two-story brick building at 950 Parker St. and was looking for a bigger space. 

Nolo, which according to its website, is the nation’s oldest provider of legal information for consumers and small businesses, has been in Berkeley since 1971 and its staff has grown to more than 100 legal editors, software developers, customer service representatives, salespeople, web developers and others since then. 

“We might possibly leave Berkeley,” Dubow said. “We have been in this building for 30 years and in business in Berkeley for 37 years, but the building is being sold and we are in a kind of a strange situation. We are not in a lease right now and we are also pushing the boundaries for the building. The owner is selling the building and doesn’t want a long term lease in place.” 

Dubow, a graduate of UC Berkeley, also wrote for the student newspaper, The Daily Californian, a stint he said got him interested in the publishing business. 

He said Nolo had no idea of who the new owner might be or when the building would be sold. 

“The Genn family have been really great partners,” he said. “This is a great old building. We started out as a tiny bookstore in a 500 square foot space and have grown to 20,000 square foot.” 

Tom Genn, who developed the old warehouse building into offices, passed away two years ago. 

Nolo is looking at relocating to a suitable location between Oakland and Richmond. 

“At first we felt a little pressure to move but we found there was not much action on buying the property, so we are taking things at a leisurely pace,” Dubow said. “We have only seen a couple of buildings in Oakland and we haven’t seen one in Berkeley that made sense. We are looking for a facility that is big enough and affordable, and there doesn’t seem to be too many of those available in the city. We really like being in Berkeley and want to stay here but chances are less than half that we will be in Berkeley.” 

Headed by Ralph “Jake” Warner, Nolo specializes in books, forms and software on a wide range of legal issues, including wills, estate planning, retirement, elder care, personal finance, taxes, housing, real estate, divorce and child custody. 

According to historical information on Nolo’s website, Warner was a legal aid lawyer serving low-income families in the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1970s. 

Frustration over a complicated legal system that was overly expensive for average working Americans led Warner and a few of his colleagues to writing do-it-yourself legal guides. 

Rejections by numerous publishers saw Warner and his colleagues publishing their own books, and the advent of personal computers also allowed the addition of software. 

When the Internet arrived, Nolo created a website that offered free information and resources to people. 

Nolo, Dubow said, had started toying with the idea of moving three years ago when it ran out of space in the old building and rented additional space in the warehouse next door. 

Although there is no timeline for moving, Dubow said the company would probably relocate in the early part of 2009. 

“Of course, we could be forced out, someone could buy it and give us a a 30-day notice, but we are in a good relationship with the current landlords and hopefully that won’t happen,” he said. 

Dubow added that the area around Ninth Street was undergoing a lot of development. 

The Fantasy Records building owned by Wareham Development on Tenth Street— right across from Nolo’s offices—has seen a lot of development in recent years, with one of the most recent being the construction of a child care center for Disney Pixar employees. 

The city’s zoning adjustments board also approved a use permit for Bayer Healthcare in June, giving the pharmaceutical giant the green light to move some of its administrative offices into 921 Parker, a space zoned specifically for industrial use.  

Further down the street, the new Berkeley Bowl is also under construction. 

“The area is quite hot right now,” he said. “Possibly that’s why the owner wants to sell it or maybe they were at that point in their life when they just decided to sell.” 

The owners of the property could not be reached for comment Friday.