Adobe Books Pulls Off Funding Feat to Survive as Co-op

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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.”

15 Comments

  1. oira

    The first thing they should do is clean the store. Then they should look at the inventory. The shelves are full of grubby books that look like overused textbooks, and there seems to be no room for newer books that people might want to buy.

    I know this will be mocked — old books, they’re precious! — but the store would have a better chance of attracting new customers if it simply gave away its entire inventory and started over.

    • verdad amarga

      Your comment reminds me of Super Sad True Love Story, Gary Shteyngart’s dystopian novel about a future where everything is shiny and clean and the common view of the narrator’s friends is that books smell horrible and are disgusting. People do everything on plastic devices, there’s bio-engineered everything, a totalitarian government…so yeah, you’re obviously not a person that appreciates serendipity, randomness, things that aren’t perfect.
      You will probably enjoy the future.

      • Karl

        Yeah, because there’s only two options, either everything is super shitty or we all live insome Brave New World type future. AWESOME LOGIC!

        • verdad amarga

          Except that Adobe Books is not “super shitty”. It’s just a used bookstore, a rarity these days, the last of the three that were near 16th/Mission.

    • Mike

      I love old books, but not all old books are created equal.I shop at (and sell to) used books stores frequently, but never bought anything at Adobe. You couldn’t find anything. You couldn’t move around. Sounds like they are on the right track with the makeover. Having it organized, with a bit larger open event space in the center or the back room will help keep it “homey” rather than “body of old man found buried under piles of newspapers.”

  2. SF Resident

    The money will disappear fast at $6-$8K/month rent. And $60K can be the cost of a modest remodel. How about a new location somewhere more affordable – like Upper Mission?

    • nimby

      You got that right, dude. It’s way past time they moved out of the Downer Mission.

    • Old Mission Neighbor

      Come to 24th St.

      • db

        That would be awesome, 24th Street could use another bookstore, but it will face the wrath of those that see new stores and new people as a threat to the “cultural makeup of the neighborhood.”

        • Ana

          We already have 2, and I wonder if you even support them… They’re barely staying in business! If you don’t think we have enough, go to a different neighborhood, and please respect ours.

      • mission bred

        two already on 24th and one is barely making it…

  3. Heidi-Jane

    Re: “Downer Mission” – ha! But more importantly, congrats to Adobe. I’m glad to hear their news.

  4. Billy

    I sometimes buy books there a like a book about transgender prostitutes in mexico city. It was a good book and gave it to my friend in Mexico city. I always look through the Mexican section. They are almost always the same books. But once in a while I’ll find a gem. I love books even if they are old and smelly. I don’t own a computer but use the Internet every day. Adobe is fun to just hang out in though. It reminds me of another city like Albuquerque or something weird. I live in Oakland and sometimes just go to the mission to hang out in adobe and watch people and listen. It’s a cool place.

  5. Jamie

    If Adobe moves/closes I’ll have little reason to go to 16th. For Adobe to close it would be a huge loss to the city. I hope that the store can say where it is. A little make-over is ok, but it must preserve the community and comfortable feeling that makes it such a special place.

  6. Mischa

    I think it would serve everyone to dissociate what is happening with Adobe and what is happening in the Mission – this is about a group of motivated people who want to protect something they find valuable. All the more props to them for the fund raising effort.

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