After 10 years on Valencia Street, Borderlands Cafe will pour its final cup of coffee on Tuesday.

Owner Alan Beatts, also the owner of Borderlands Books — which will remain open on Valencia Street at least for the next year — said that the decision to shutter the cafe was, by and large, voluntary. He attributed the move to a confluence of factors, including staff retention, slumping sales, and his personal desire to focus on the bookstore.

“It’s not that we lost our lease; it’s not like we’re going bankrupt,” Beatts told Mission Local. “It’s unfortunate that it’s a choice that makes sense.”

Over the past several years, Beatts explained, finding and retaining staff has become increasingly difficult. “Part of it is it’s hard to live in San Francisco for what a cafe can pay,” he said. He’s also had to compete with the more lucrative side gigs held by longtime employees, and he’s had difficulty finding young people willing to work evenings, weekends and summers. “We have no high school students working for us now,” he said, noting that he’s seen a noticeable shift in the availability of young workers. “It’s not like we haven’t tried.”

Sales have also declined in the last few years, he said. “I think that’s because we’re kind of a cafe designed for Valencia Street in 2010, not Valencia Street in 2020,” he said. “We’re kind of simple.”

That’s true: One cannot find the full gamut of Third Wave coffee selections, like single-cup pour-overs, six different varieties of coffee, or artisanal food. “It’s a well-lit place with tables where you can work, talk to friends, and play board games while enjoying coffee and a bagel.”  

Beatts added that the sudden death of a close friend prompted him to reassess his priorities. “When something like that happens it makes you look at your own life,” he said. “Maybe I would like to cut down on what I do and focus on something that I love instead of something I like.”  

The cafe employs eight people. Beatts said that he will be giving them a “pretty good severance.” He said he’s helped find jobs for some, while some of his longest-term employees are intent on pursuing their other endeavors.

The cafe’s lease does not expire until 2025, so Beatts said he’s taking a buyout from his landlord for not subleasing the space. The closure, he said, is timed especially well, as a seismic retrofit on the cafe space has been looming.

Soon — Beatts estimates this year — Borderlands Books will move from Valencia to Haight Street, into the former space of Recycled Records. Beatts purchased the Haight Street property after raising $1.9 million from supporters.

“I like running a cafe,” Beatts said. “I love running a bookstore.”

Julian Mark

Julian grew up in the East Bay and moved to San Francisco in 2014. Before joining Mission Local, he wrote for the East Bay Express, the SF Bay Guardian, and the San Francisco Business Times.

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2 Comments

  1. This is such a shame! I love this cafe. One factor not mentioned here is that they don’t have WiFi. That’s not even 2010 – more like 2000! There aren’t too many places where you can expect to see customers reading books made of paper instead of staring at screens, or having actual IRL conversations that aren’t about their startups.

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