“Eccentric neutrality,” said Heather Holt, volunteer and de facto manager at the Adobe Books and Arts Cooperative. “I feel like that’s my goal.”
Holt and Johnny Fellman, another long-time volunteer at the co-op, sat together in a brightly painted parklet outside the store. Adobe has been part of the Mission for more than 30 years, they explained, and has always been about more than just selling books.
Its volunteers have tried to foster a “neutral, welcoming space where people can share ideas,” said Holt. Experimental artists and musicians from across the Bay often show off their latest creations there, and regulars are encouraged to pull up a chair and make themselves at home.
“We would always joke that it felt like a sitcom,” Fellman laughed, with different neighborhood characters dipping in and out of the store throughout the day.
Running Adobe is a community endeavor. Everyone who works there is a volunteer, although Holt takes a small stipend for the 30 or so hours she puts into it each week. Some 20 volunteers fill the roster at any given time, Holt estimated, but there must be 300 keys floating around from all the people who have contributed to the store over the years.
Like many businesses in the area, Adobe took a major hit from the pandemic. Lots of their customers had once been tourists from Europe and East Asia, Holt said. That whole crowd dwindled to nothing and won’t begin trickling back until Nov. 8, when travel restrictions end for the vaccinated.
For a store that used to host hundreds of events each year, the curtailing of live meet-ups was also a blow. The store experimented last spring with playing live music in the store while keeping customers outside. The result: around 300 people turned up, turning the road into a loud, impromptu street party. It was “a little controversial,” said Holt.
Adobe’s events for the upcoming Lit Crawl will be the first in several months.
Explore the lit crawl
Holt and Fellman are two of the longest-serving workers at the store, but both are hoping to pass on their responsibilities to newer volunteers at some point in the next five years. During her time helping lead the store, Holt said she has tried to flatten the structure of the co-op, so that everyone who wants to can pick up new duties.
“I’m not going to do this forever,” said Holt. “We just need to make sure it is sustainable, so that other people can plug in in the future.”
Fellman added that his long-term goal is to move to Southeast Asia, where he has worked as an acupuncturist in the past.
Until then, Holt is optimistic that the store will continue to serve as a community hub and cannot wait to host more live events again.
“The weird thing about Adobe is that people seem to want it to succeed,” she said. “There’s always people rooting for the shop.”