Nearly a dozen local bookstores received a special gift from the city Tuesday morning — $103,000 in total grant money to help them through a time when books can be delivered to one’s door at the click of a mouse.
And that’s exactly why the funding is so important, says Joaquin Torres, the director of the Office of Economic and Workforce Development. “There’s nothing online that can recreate the experience of walking into a bookstore — the art you see on the walls, the performances that take place, the cultural conversations,” he said.
The city, in partnership with the nonprofit Working Solutions and the Small Business Development Center, awarded 11 bookstores grant money, including five in the Mission: Dog Eared Books, Bolerium Books, Mission: Comics & Art, Adobe Books & Art Cooperative and Alley Cat Books.
The money is part of the Bookstore SF Program, a pet project of the late Mayor Ed Lee, aimed at funding bookstore “revitalizations” that emphasize their roles as social hubs rather than simply places to purchase reading material.
In addition to the funding, the bookstores will receive city services, including technical assistance on marketing, human resource consulting, and help negotiating long-term leases.
According to OEWD, there are 57 independent bookstores in San Francisco that together generate more than $9.8 million in sales, create and retain more than 100 jobs, host more than 40 free community events each month, and have been in business for an average of 21 years.
Comix Experience in NoPa, Dog Eared Books in the Castro, East Wind Bookstore in Chinatown, Just a Touch Christian Bookstore in the Bayview, Green Apple Books in the Richmond, and Stevens Books in the Excelsior also received grant money.
At 24th Street’s Adobe Books on Tuesday morning, about 25 people — including many of the grant recipients — gathered in the small space whose shelves brimmed with books. They commingled and ate breakfast burritos and, when receiving their checks, they expressed their gratitude and told their stories.
“Last year was very difficult,” said Leef Smith, the owner of Mission: Comics and Art, whose storefront sits on Mission Street between 18th and 19th.
Smith told the small crowd that he was considering closing his store in January. But, in the end, he decided to stick it out, and did so with the help of loyal customers. Smith, in fact, started a Patreon drive and apparently received enough to keep him going. For him, the city grant only added to his customer support.
“Some of my customers have been with me for the entire nine years (I’ve been in business),” he said. “That sort of loyalty and interest in reading on a regular basis is really powerful.”
Adobe Books had its own existential threat in 2012 when it first received a major rent hike and was subsequently evicted from its space on 16th Street between Valencia and Guerrero. The bookstore known for its community events had enough financial support from its customers to move onto 24th Street and become a co-op.
“We don’t want to just be a thing that exists — we’re not an island,” said Rebekah Kouy-Ghadosh, an Adobe employee who owns a share of the business. She explained that the bookstore is constantly hosting events, and the grant would help the store continue to do that.
Holding the bookstore’s check, she added, “I’m going to go out and make it rain books!”
Kate Razo, the owner of Dog Eared and Alley Cat books, received multiple checks that afternoon — for Dog Eared’s Valencia and Castro locations, as well as Alley Cat books on 24th Street.
A believer in the small bookstore, Razo said that growing a book business is not easy. She announced that the Dog Eared had recently secured another 10-year lease at its Valencia location, but a deal was far from certain.
“I had many sleepless nights hoping to get that lease,” Razo said.
Razo had other exciting news: that Dog Eared would be opening yet another location — albeit a very small one — within the new social-justice-oriented cafe, Manny’s, soon opening at 16th and Valencia.
Speaking about the grant money, Razo, who has been running bookstores in San Francisco since the ‘80s, said: “I never thought I’d see the day where the city says, “‘Hey, here’s a check.’”