Friday, May 20, 2011

Bookless in San Francisco

In the past few years, downtown San Francisco has lost all of its big bookstores. Most recently, in the wake of Borders' bankruptcy, we saw two Borders stores close downtown. A year or so earlier, we lost the large independent Stacey's bookstore and the Virgin Megastore (which wasn't primarily books, but it had a large books section). And before that, in 2007 we lost a large Cody's Bookstore.

All of those stores were within a relatively short walking distance of my office. If I wanted to pick up a book or new magazine, or if I just wanted to browse, I had many choices.

Now, there is no large downtown San Francisco bookstore. None. In fact, within the downtown area proper, how many bookstores of any type are left? Ignoring the stores on the periphery of the business district (and there are some good, unique small bookstores, such as Kayo Books) and a couple in Chinatown (you can quibble over whether Chinatown is in "downtown" or if it's a neighboring district), there's only one store that I know of: Alexander Book Company on Second Street off Market. It, too, is a nice bookstore. But it is not a giant one, and it is not large enough to be an anchor bookstore for a major city's downtown.

Will Barnes & Noble set up shop in any of the vacant space? That company currently only has one store in the city, off in the somewhat hard-to-access Fisherman's Warf area. A prime downtown store near the Powell Street subway station or Union Square could be a coup. Then again, B&N is reportedly up for sale, and it might not be in an expansionary mood.

Will an independent company set up a large store downtown? That would be a wonderful occurrence, but getting funding for a bookstore in the current economy is likely to be difficult, to say the least.

It looks more likely that this busy downtown area, filled with over-educated people, will go forward for the foreseeable future being severely bookstore-deprived.

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