The cat is out of the bag.
Alley Cat Bookstore & Gallery has officially shut down its storefront at 3036 24th St. In its place will be a new bookshop, Medicine for Nightmares, which officially took over the lease late Wednesday night.
The decision was bittersweet, and a multitude of factors played into owner Kate K. Razo’s decision to sell. After all, “one doesn’t just wake up and decide to close a bookstore,” she said.
That’s especially true for Razo, who has owned several of them, and still owns Dog Eared Books on Valencia Street.
Fans took the news hard, too, and openly broke down and wept at the news, the proprietor recalled. Razo, captivated by the street’s vivacity and eager to supply the “book-hungry neighborhood” with books in English and Spanish, first opened the shop in 2011.
Over the years, thousands of people crossed under the iconic pink and green sign to admire the gallery’s abstract artwork, or to collaborate over recent writings at workshops.
read about “medicine for nightmares”
Of course, that came to a screeching halt when the pandemic struck. Both Dog Eared locations on Valencia and Castro streets shut down, and so did Alley Cat. However, the virus didn’t stop book donations, and Razo soon found herself practically buried among hundreds of boxes of page-turners. “We took what we could use, and what we couldn’t, we couldn’t give away fast enough. It became a horrible hoarder’s paradise,” she recalled.
Eventually, Alley Cat became a “ground-zero” staging area for the other stores, and she and staff would “shove and dump” the books at Alley Cat, which was closed for nine months.
When it reopened again in October, Razo decided to redouble her efforts on community engagement — an aspect of her tenure that she felt had always fallen short. This time, her husband, Marco Razo, pitched in, too. Marco, an artist from Mexico City, spent more time at the store and injected a welcoming spirit that attracted community members.
Although Alley Cat had participated in community events like Paseo Artístico, Razo noted, it wasn’t until her husband jumped in that she began to see changes. Slowly, locals who never came by before, stopped by. “He’s marvelous. He loves the community, and Calle 24,” Razo said.
Alley Cat’s progress invigorated Razo, “and yet, I realized it was time for Alley Cat to transition to its next best self,” she said. She thought about how she wanted to live the rest of her life; she turned 60, her husband turned 65, and soon, her daughter would be off to college. “I think covid afforded me an opportunity to reprioritize my priorities.”
“I thought, ‘I can get this store into the next, rightful hands,’” she said. The pandemic enabled Alley Cat to make a “quarter turn” toward her ideal community-centered direction. But “it needed a full turn,” she said.
When she decided to sell the offers piled in, but Razo reached out to Chicano poet and City Lights bookseller Josiah Luis Alderete. He was up for the venture and looped in two other bibliophiles, J.K. Fowler of Nomadic Press, and Tân Khánh Cao, a former Dog Eared Books staff.
“I really think that these people can do it. It would be a BIPOC collective, and what would be better than that, right?” Razo said. “In my mind, with all hope, prayers and confidence, they are going to take it to its next rightful place in the community.”
It came together fast. She urged the trio to seal the deal before the holidays encroached, noting that January was a quiet season for retail. Razo introduced the gang to the rest of the Calle 24 neighbors and remains available for advice, she said.
Still, this is another of Razo’s bookstores to close or change hands, and the thought of selling one more elicited mixed feelings. Her most recent sale was Dog Eared in the Castro, which she sold to longtime friend and manager Alvin Orloff in September. While it broke her heart to let go of Alley Cat, she said, making the match with the new owners was serendipitous and exciting. Moving forward, she’s determined to take the “heartache” from closing Alley Cat and repurpose the “beauty” and energy onto her “beloved” Dog Eared. “I’m really excited to focus on this store.”
Who knows what’s in store for Alley Cat, anyway? It stays online, and may revive as a pop-up one day, Razo said. “It’s Alley Cat. It’s got nine lives.”