As purveyors of print and worshipers of the written word, we are one voice adding to many in the conversation regarding the survival of the physical book, and by proxy, physical bookstores. The discussion has been going on since the Internet reared its ugly, yet hypnotically fascinating head. As bookstore after bookstore joins the ranks of closed businesses across the country and reader after reader bows down to praise the e-reader, the talk of the sustainability and survival of print has grown from a concerned murmur to a frenzied outcry. Never is the seeming trend more apparent than when a local icon is threatened. Not one, but two San Francisco bookstores are facing the possibility of closing their doors due to languishing book sales and outrageous rent increases.
Mission district neighbors Adobe Books and Forest Books are both struggling to keep their heads above water as landlords unbound by commercial rent controls respond to the increased popularity of the district and book sales continue to disappoint. While the community surrounding the bookstores expresses sadness at the prospect of their closing, it would take a hero (cough, multi-millionaire, cough) to save them.
For 22 years, Adobe Books has been a literary hub, where poets, writers, musicians, and artists drifted together among the cluttered but charming hodgepodge collection. Since 2001, Adobe has also been proud papa to "The Backroom" -- a gallery whose mission it is to provide "an alternative space where artists can make momentous decisions in their practice and experiment freely in the company of their peers." At any moment during business hours, one can wander into Adobe and find an experience, not just a store. We've heard beautiful French music floating off the radio, discussed politics with wandering poets, dined on delicious, donated danishes from Tartine and found live and local musicians performing, squeezed between the shelves.
While this isn't the first time Adobe has been on the brink of closing, owner Andrew McKinley seems to have pretty low hopes for the future survival of Adobe Books: "I feel that closure might be the best solution if no one can step in to save it."
As far as Forest Books is concerned, the war is still worth fighting. In the window of the peaceful, monk-owned bookstore hangs a petition for customers to sign in hopes that community support might be enough to combat the pressures from the non-profit that owns the building. Negotiations are still taking place, but unless the Mission Housing Development Corporation finds another source of income or simply backs down, Forest Books will be faced with a 300 percent rent increase over the next three years.
The loss of Forest Books will be a sad one for the community as it provides, in the words of owner Gregory Woods on the website, "a community resource where peace and harmony are the foundation for exploration, inquiry, and creative expression." Or as a Yelper put it: "(a) quiet respite from the shit show that is Valencia and 16th."
Dear citizens of San Francisco, go buy some books already. Or, if you are in possession of $3 million, please see either of the above gentlemen before S.F. loses two of it's most prized literary oases.