When Josiah Luis Alderete learned that Alley Cat Bookstore & Gallery, the nearly decade-old bilingual bookshop on 24th Street, would shut down, he thought, “oh shit.” He immediately jumped to imaginary conclusions, cringing at the idea of the bookstore turning into a pilates studio.
Luckily, his friend Kate K. Razo owned the soon-to-be closed bookstore at 3036 24th St. She, too, wanted its successor to sell books, and figured Alderete, a Chicano poet and bookseller at the historic City Lights, may know a literary local up to the task.
Well, he was. And he knew exactly who to call, too.
Late Wednesday night, it became a done deal. Alderete, Tân Khánh Cao, and J.K. Fowler, also local bibliophiles, officially signed papers to transfer the lease to open a bookstore of their own. The new bookshop, Medicine for Nightmares/Medicina para Pesadillas, aims to offer “general” selections as well as niche categories such as radical political writings, local Chicano poetry, modern world history, and bilingual literature.
Most of all, the space hopes to ward off all sorts of “societal” nightmares: “colonial nightmares, patriarchal nightmares, mundane nightmares,” Alderete said. “For me, books provide medicine for that. We inherit that through cultura.”
Thanks to each owners’ steep knowledge of the Bay Area writing scenes, the offerings will showcase local, marginalized, or lesser-known authors. For example, Alderete’s connections with Chicanx and Mission writers made a Chicano poetry display a no-brainer. Fowler, who launched community-based literary nonprofit Nomadic Press 10 years ago, decided all Nomadic Press material will be right next to the register. Cao, as a bookseller at City Lights and a recent employee at Dog Eared Books on Valencia, picked books that reflect “truth and an honest world,” Alderete said.
“The demographics of the books we carry are going to reflect the real world we live in,” Cao said Tuesday night while restocking the store. Sections like U.S. history, for example, will be more representative of other cultures and expose other stories.
Cao and Alderete toyed with new niche sections, too. Their little cardboard genre labels declared specific themes or funny reviews: “SILVIA MORENO-GARCIA IS A HELLA CHINGONA WRITER ¡¡ CHECK HER OUT FOR REAL!!”
One customer who dropped by, liked the shelf tagged “THE KIND OF MUSICA YOUR ABUELITA WOULD GET MAD AT YOU FOR LISTENING TO…” and noticed it housed Violence Girl by Alice Bag. Alderete nodded. “That’s a bad-ass book,” he said. “You should read Michelle Cruz Gonzales’s The Spitboy Rule.”
Like Alley Cat, Medicine for Nightmares will do more than sell books. Cao rearranged the gallery so it has more space, and will continue a multitude of community events like panels, workshops, and readings. Saturday’s event will feature Nomadic Press author Roberto F. Santiago and his new book “Like Sugar.”
And, Alderete wants to continue to engage community figures like Leticia Hernández-Linares. After all, the reason he became a poet is because of the neighborhood, he said. Nicaraguan poets, LUNADA at Galería de la Raza, and Pan Dulce Poets at La Reyna Bakery all left an impact. “I’m also bringing in the memory of the neighborhood because we really want to honor this place,” he said. “The City of San Francisco is mistaken that the literary heart of this place is North Beach.”
The trio envisions a community that encourages “less separation” between people of different geographies, backgrounds, or identities. That may extend to creatures – Fowler’s dog, Stella, will be present each time he’s around.
While it’s a done deal, Medicine for Nightmares is still in a “soft-opening” phase and will have an official opening party in December or January. That way, Fowler said, Alley Cat fans have time to accept the change.
“Something that has been around for as long as Alley Cat has been around, it’s nice to leave months of transition,” Fowler said.
Plus, it buys them a little time for a sale that turned around quickly. Razo was eager to sell, putting pressure on the transition. Restocking, redecorating, and signing documents all came together in roughly two months.
“It’s a big undertaking,” Fowler said. “It becomes really important that the people gel, that the vibe is carried through to support the vision,” said Fowler.
Alderete too had that sense from the start. As soon as he learned Razo wanted to sell, he dropped everything to chase his dream… literally. He sprinted to Dog Eared Books on Valencia where Cao worked, and “was like, ‘WE GOTTA BUY A BOOKSTORE!’ She hugged me really hard and said yes.”
Cao concurred, but said she wasn’t normally a person who “jumps into a life project.” This however, was different. “But do I wanna live in a bookstore, doing what we know we want to do?” Cao said. “Absolutely hands down!”