This week, KQED-FM, San Franciso’s NPR- afffilate and longstanding listener-supported radio station aired my Perspective on the economic boom and resultant gentrification situation here in San Francisco specific to how it impacts small business and in particular, bookstores. Longtime readers know that since I moved home following a decade-in-exile in Southern California, I’ve become more than a little concerned about the changing book scene here. I observed as two beloved West LA community insitutions, Midnight Special and Dutton’s, closed their doors. Citing emerging technology and real estate development as part of the complex, the closings left an area arguably already culture-spare without an accessible, substantial independent bookstore. Believe me when I say readers were bereft, though they were at a loss at how to turn things around without the assistance of major donor intervention or legislation.
And yet, a question I’m often asked is, what’s my personal stake in the matter of San Francisco bookstores? As an author, my livelihood depends in a small part on the sales of my books. I review books. Many of my friends are authors and I want them to succeed: I support their work as I can—much of our work goes on in bookstores and on the backs of each other’s books. I like bookstores. I work parttime for a bookstore. Without bookstores, my husband wouldn’t know what to do with his spare hours when he isn’t working tirelessly; they feed him with more inspiration and fuel so he can work some more (books are part of his creative process and ability to earn too). Children need books so they may learn how to read. People learn languages, new things, chart new paths, and cure diseases thanks to the knowledge found in books. Must I go on? I could, but you can just as easily listen.
This small effort in San Francisco, from the campaign to support 50-year-old Marcus Books to the ongoing progressive mission of 43-year-old Modern Times Bookstore Collective has resulted in the formation of United Booksellers of San Francisco (UBSF). We have a long way to go, but I hope you will tell your friends what we are doing and that you will join us in the struggle to keep our small bookstores and the literary culture to which they contribute strong and vital.