Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

An Optimistic Independent Bookstore.

It seems that everything you read about Independent Bookstores is all gloom and doom, and I must share the blame. My friend Rhoda received this email from her favorite bookstore, The Booksmith in the Haight.

Rather than paraphrase and potentially dilute it, I would like to share the whole email. I am, however, allowing myself to insert a few relevant pictures. All I want to add is to wish them all the best. I believe that those bookstores who carve out a niche, who offer good service, and who see themselves as an integral part of the community, can survive. The Booksmith owners sound like they understand that.

A Message from The Booksmith

As you know, the book world is being rocked by a number of radical changes: the growing size and power of Amazon, the advent of eBooks, and just this week, the bankruptcy of Borders which would shut 200 stores across the US, including their San Francisco Union Square & Market Street stores. We’d like to take this opportunity to let you know what’s going on at the Booksmith.

Three and a half years ago, when we assumed stewardship of Booksmith, we knew it was going to be impossible for independent bookstores to survive without reinventing themselves.  We took it as a personal challenge.

We have revamped & expanded our literary events program, built and trained a team of passionate and knowledgeable booksellers, added to our book selection, and made significant operational improvements.  In the middle of the recession of 2008-09, we made a significant investment to remodel the Booksmith to improve your browsing experience.  Through our expanded community giving program we have partnered with dozens of local schools and not-for-profit organizations to help them raise money for their causes.  Last fall we became the first bookstore in the country to livestream our author events, and were early adopters of new e-commerce technologies including the addition of Google Editions ebook service to booksmith.com, and this spring we are installing a new computer system to further improve our ability to offer personalized service to our readers.

The results speak for themselves – Booksmith’s popularity is at a new high!   Your favorite independent bookstore has won a number of awards including Best Author Appearances by SF Weekly and the Best Read by 7×7 Magazine.   While some in the publishing world are bemoaning the loss of younger generations of readers to the internet, we are seeing a resurgence of interest from young and old alike who are attracted by our unique programs like the Bookswap, Literary Clown Foolery and Found in Translation.  Local Bay Area authors increasingly consider the Booksmith the best place in San Francisco to host their book talks, and nationally in-demand authors are asking their publishers to send them the Booksmith.  Our long-term customer Karen Crommie recently wrote about the Booksmith in a local newsletter calling it “a vital center of intellectual life.”

Our view of the future is simple.  Nobody knows to what extent printed books will survive the technological future into which we are all headed.  But that’s ok because at the Booskmith our focus has always been on the cultural experience and community which surrounds books.  Whether people choose to read ebooks or print books, people will always need help telling and selling their stories, people will always need help finding great stories to read, and literature lovers will always want to meet other literature lovers.   Author Jonathan Franzen has said that fiction is the most fundamental human art because it’s about storytelling and that our reality arguably consists of the stories we tell about ourselves.   And the most fundamental human art isn’t going away.  In fact it’s going through explosive growth as more and more people become writers, and more and more books are published every year.

So, we go on reinventing ourselves in little ways every day to maintain the diverse, eclectic, smart outpost of culture that you have come to expect from us.  We plan to continue listening to our community, to keep experimenting with new ideas and services, and to continue helping everyone with whom we cross paths.  We plan to keep reading, keep discovering, and keep presenting great books and authors for you that you might not find otherwise in the mass media and we hope you will continue to patronize us against all the competing temptations that come your way.  Our priority is to continue maintaining the Booksmith as a dynamic, engaging, changing and vital component of our neighborhood and our city, and we’re able to do this because of the continuing loyalty and support of our customers.  You have made Booksmith your community bookstore by participating in our adventures by making recommendations about books to carry, attending events and suggesting authors to host. We will continue to be here, good books will be here, and with your support, we plan to be here for many more years to come.

Our sincere thanks,
Christin, Praveen & all the Booksmith Staff


Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/



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2 thoughts on “An Optimistic Independent Bookstore.

  1. “, , , we go on reinventing ourselves in little ways every day. . . ” This is the powerful advantage small businesses have over large ones. In a small business a new idea is examined, shaped, and executed. New ideas are often intuitive, likewise the decision to proceed. And two weeks later they know if the idea is a keeper.

    I believe if Borders had done what Booksmith did, they would still be around.

    Sometimes the success of a small business’ new idea is spectacular. Twelve years ago Jeff Bezos was working out of his garage delivering books that could be ordered over the Internet. Humble beginnings for Amazon.

    AL Ride with me and Lightnin’ on our Year on the Road at http://allevenson.wordpress.com/

  2. Christin, Praveen & all the Booksmith Staff are wonderful people and we wish them wonderful success. We are all very sad when we see that a bookstore fails. Probably we can keep physical books alive without destroying forests. We should find ways to protect physical books as we should protect the trees as well. But at the same time we hope we can have “electronic ink”, electronic devises to read books that mimic the printed page of physical books to the point of perfection. There is still work to be done. And I hope Christin, Praveen & all the Booksmith Staff and similar efforts here and around the world can make a smooth transition if required. We, at present, or many of us, follow the electronic path due to cost. It is less expensive to put our books into the hands of possible readers. I am, if I may comment, at present trying to put the yield of many hours of my work into the hands of possible readers. I am trying to do it through the electronic path. Of course, I would like to see my book at Booksmith’s. It is very important to acquire the know-how to put information and books in the marketplace successfully, if we may talk that way. My very best wishes to Christin, Praveen & all the Booksmith Staff . May God help all of us to reach safe port unharmed.

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