The Adobe Books sign is displayed on the sidewalk in front of the store's new location on 24th Street.

Adobe Books, a 30-year-old bookstore and cultural hub, became a legacy business Monday following a unanimous vote by the San Francisco Small Business Commission.

The 24th Street institution can now receive an annual $500 grant per employee, and $4.50 per square foot to Adobe’s landlord, annually, if the store’s lease is extended for 10 years.  

Amy Beinart, an aide to Supervisor Hillary Ronen, said Ronen was “delighted” to nominate Adobe for the award. Adobe has “not only offered affordable reads for 30 years, but has become a neighborhood staple for everyone,” Beinart said, noting that last year it hosted 159 completely free events and “regularly opens its space for San Francisco-based authors, thinkers, musicians and poet laureates.”  

Beinart was among a half-dozen or so people who spoke in favor of granting Adobe legacy status. 

While joyous, the coronation did not come without its share of drama. In fact, Adobe Books was slated to gain its legacy status three months ago. But during its anticipated Sep. 23 approval meeting — usually a pro-forma exercise for most businesses nominated for legacy status — a former Adobe Books volunteer walked up to the open mic and spoke in opposition. 

Sienna Kang, who identified herself as a former Adobe volunteer, said at the September meeting that Adobe failed to pay an undisclosed sum in worker’s compensation funds to Josephine Torio, formerly the only paid employee at the volunteer-run cooperative. Kang said that Torio was forced to go to the emergency room in March 2019 after she had been stabbed in the eye by a store decoration. 

Another Adobe volunteer, John Fellman, made an impromptu defense of the bookstore at that September meeting.

He said Adobe offered to compensate Torio — but there was “no money” at the time, and she would be reimbursed after a fundraiser. 

Adobe held the fundraiser in September and subsequently reimbursed Torio for the hospital visit, according to Heather Holt, Adobe’s treasurer.  

Following Kang’s unexpected allegations, the commissioners in September delayed Adobe’s approval pending a “thorough review” by Office of Small Business staff. That review produced a 24-page report released prior to Monday’s meeting. 

Kang, according to the Office of Small Business report, declined opportunities for mediation with Adobe books. Neither she nor Torio showed up to last night’s meeting. Mission Local’s messages for Torio were not returned.

Kang told Mission Local she was advised by her personal lawyer not to mediate, and that mediation would be used by the bookstore’s leadership as a means to avoid legal issues. 

The report noted that Adobe Books has, since the September meeting, secured its staffers access to worker’s compensation through a state fund — and that the bookstore is also working with a lawyer to ensure it is compliant with “all proper business practices including insurance requirements.” 

None of the half-dozen speakers at Monday’s meeting opined against awarding Adobe its legacy status.

“We’re not a commercial enterprise concerned with individual profit,” said Holt said at the meeting. “We’re a vessel to be filled by anyone who would like to come to our doors and to be themselves and authentic and express their artistic form.” 

Before the commission approved Adobe’s legacy status, Commissioner Sharky Laguana said he understood the commission’s desire to “press the pause button” in light of the September complaints, but this was not the venue “to adjudicate disputes.” 

For the approval of legacy businesses, Laguana said, the commission’s job was merely to judge whether a business satisfies the legacy business criteria: That it has operated for 30 years; has contributed to the history and culture of the city; and is committed to maintaining the physical features that have defined the business.” 

Adobe Books has done that. Unanimously, per the Office of Small Business.

Plus, Laguana said, “When you get to 30 years, pretty much everybody has had a couple” of personnel disputes. 

“You’d be lucky if you can get five years without one.” 

This article, since its publication, has been updated with quotes by Holt and Kang. 

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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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