On March 14, after weeks of uncertainty, Adobe Books pulled off a last-minute feat of survival.
One day before the deadline of midnight on March 15, the secondhand bookshop hit $60,000 in its all-or-nothing Indiegogo crowd-funding campaign to save the store, which has been struggling due to substantial rent hikes and other financial difficulties.
Members of the Adobe community had braced themselves for the deadline, a time stamp that would likely define the store’s fate. The money would help pay for a pending rent increase that, based on market rates, would bump the rate up to between $6,000 and $8,000 a month — thousands more than the the current $4,500 per month.
Community members launched the campaign as part of a larger project to change the store’s business model from a sole proprietorship to a cooperative.
The fundraising was a feat for supporters, who aren’t particularly wealthy, according to Adobe owner Andrew McKinley. Despite several large contributions — including one for $5,000 — most of the funds came from small donations, according to cooperative member Calgano Cullen.
“The bookstore would die without local community support,” McKinley said, crossing his arms and nodding as he stood outside Public Works during one of the store’s numerous fundraising events. “It’s not like a bunch of rich artists are saving this store.”
The campaign’s success means that, at least for now, Adobe will stick around. If it can’t afford to stay at the current 16th Street location — a homey, beatnik-esque shop wedged between Valencia and Guerrero — it will move to a space nearby. What’s important is its continued existence, supporters say.
Higher rent isn’t the only reason Adobe was threatened with closure, however.
“Adobe as it is, as much as we love it, doesn’t make any money,” Cullen said. “We want to take what we love about it, being a community center, and change it to be a business that could be sustainable.”
What’s happening at Adobe isn’t an isolated event, said Brett Lockspeiser, a co-op member who is working on the store’s budget and finances. Secondhand bookstores throughout the country are struggling. Between 2002 and 2011, the number of independent bookstores registered with the American Booksellers Association dropped from 2,400 to 1,900. If independent booksellers are to survive, they have to get creative and develop new models such as Adobe’s plan to transition into worker-consumer co-op.
Even those who support independent bookstores recognize that revenue losses at stores like Adobe are in part due to their own consumption habits.
“I’m part of the problem,” said Tim Kaihatsu, an Adobe customer of nearly two decades. “I purchase e-books. Places like this are going out of business because of people like me.”
Adobe has always been an old-fashioned bookstore, with no computerized inventory and no online presence. The space itself is difficult to navigate. Books are scattered everywhere: crammed into wooden shelves, stacked on top of glass tables, shoved into sagging cardboard boxes.
McKinley acknowledges that the store can’t survive as it is. The traditional used bookstore model isn’t sustainable with the rise and reign of online bookselling giants like Amazon. It’s easier to browse online than in a bookstore, lowering the demand for actual retail space. Consumers’ inclinations to buy and collect books have declined.
Under Adobe’s proposed cooperative model, community members would buy tiered memberships of $10, $15 and $30 a month and receive discounts, free events, and art subscriptions in return. McKinley would no longer own the store, but would continue searching for secondhand books at flea markets, garage sales, thrift stores, library sales, book auctions and other bookstores — an activity he candidly describes as one of his “greatest thrills.”
The cooperative plans to expand the store’s art and merchandise component by selling products such as cards, blank books, maps and T-shirts. It will reassess inventory and get rid of items that haven’t sold in years. And under the new model, the shop will sell books online and sell new books in addition to secondhand ones. Lockspeiser says Dog Eared Books on Valencia Street is a great example of a successful bookstore that sells both new and used books.
The co-op’s goal, according to its Indiegogo campaign page, is to “develop a new Adobe that is everything we love about the old Adobe and more — with a sustainable business plan that can become a model for other efforts like ours to keep culture, the arts, and small businesses alive in our communities.”
For customers like Kaihatsu, Adobe has occupied an important place in the Mission. On a recent evening he hovered inside the shop’s checkered walkway, snapping pictures with an old-fashioned camera. A history teacher and longtime Adobe patron, Kaihatsu dropped by the store after he heard it might close.
He stared at a cluster of pictures of Adobe supporters and pondered what it would mean if, after 25 years, the store shut its doors. “If it really does close,” he said, gesturing toward a stack of tattered secondhand books inside, “my God, what a loss.”
Kaihatsu wasn’t the only one troubled by the financial crisis; when the store’s supporters heard about the increased rent and potential closure, they were stunned. Many had been frequenting the place for years and saw it as not only a bookstore but a space to share ideas, creative energy and thought.
“Adobe has been such an important part of our lives as artists, writers, book lovers and Mission dwellers,” reads an excerpt from the “Who We Are” section of the Indiegogo campaign, “not only for the books, but for the impromptu events and gatherings, the gallery featuring local artists, the discussions, friendships and connections it has nurtured among us and the generous, welcoming spirit of the place — that we couldn’t see the Mission without it.”
By Monday, March 11, with just four days to go, the campaign still needed to raise $20,000. Cullen said she was unsure whether the group would be able to hit its mark. “At the beginning, I had my doubts,” she confessed. But that uncertainty quickly faded. “It’s amazing to me, in the past couple weeks we’ve gained so much support,” she said. “It’s just been amazing the amount of people that have really supported us. Now the campaign page has 1,700 likes on Facebook.”
And those likes translated. But even though the campaign reached its goal, it’s uncertain whether Adobe will be able to stay afloat after the $60,000 runs out, or if the collective will serve as a lucrative business model for the store.
Cullen says the transition will happen slowly and cautiously.
“The thing I want people to be aware of is that we’re going to take our time in deciding exactly what changes we make and how we’re going to run the business,” she said. “We’re going to take our time and respect the huge task that we have in front of us, and try and make the most out of this campaign and ensure that Adobe’s around for a long time.”