Monday, March 23, 2009

Last Visits to a Literary Oasis—Stacey’s Bookstore in San Francisco



Here’s a glimpse of a once bustling bookstore slipping into history. The shelves are half empty, today books are 40% off the retail price. Tomorrow, the shelves will be all that’s left to buy.



During my first attempt at a “last” visit to one of my favorite lunchtime haunts, I bought a C.S. Lewis book telling the story of his radio talks broadcast during world war two that were eventually published as Mere Christianity.



After another week or so, I was back again, for a second “last” visit. This time three books left with me, the first a classic autobiographical work by William Styron: Darkness Visible, A Memoir of Madness. Next came The View From a Monastery, The Vowed Life and Its Cast of Many Characters by Brother Benet Tvedten. Then sixty years of poetry by a Poet Laureate, Donald Hall: White Apples and The Taste of Stone, Selected Poems 1946 to 2006. The last came with a CD of the poet reading selected poems which I look forward to listening to on my iPod during our Sea Ranch vacation.





I almost didn’t return for a third and “final” visit, as the sight of the now mostly empty shelves was slightly depressing. Then to my delight I found one more book in the basement. Surprised by Hope by the New Testament scholar N.T. Wright became my last book from Stacey’s Bookstore. Two weeks ago the very last book was sold at the store, and only brave booksellers who need more shelves were searching through the remains as another literary oasis passes into history.

After 85 years of bookselling on Market Street in downtown San Francisco, Stacey’s Bookstore will close in March, 2009. Sales have dropped 50% since 2001, and a shaky economy and a 15% year over year decline for last year’s final quarter combined to bring this favorite haunt of browsers to the end of its run as a full service bookstore.

In the store’s heyday there were Stacey’s bookstores in Palo Alto, Modesto, Richmond, Cupertino, Los Angeles and San Bernardino. Stacey’s San Francisco store has always carried a wide-ranging selection of books. While Stacey’s built its reputation around technical books for professionals, the San Francisco store always carried something for everyone. Three floors of opportunity for booklovers meant the store was always a popular lunch-hour retreat. The remaindered books, conveniently organized and displayed with blue and white “Stacey’s special value” stickers in the basement were an especially powerful magnet for bargain-hunters.

Stacey’s former customers are now exploring downtown San Francisco’s lanes and alleys, searching out alternative oases where we can browse and buy the books that feed our minds and strengthen our souls.

2 comments:

Kevin said...

I heard today that the Chicago Sun Times filed for bancruptcy, another victim of the internet.

stepha said...

My sincere condolences on the loss of a small haven. It's not nearly the same, but one of my favorite thrift stores closed up their "annex", the separate building they sold furniture in. Alot of cheap antiques and mid-century furnishings made it into that part of the shop, and I've gotten a couple of small pieces for cheap that I enjoy, but it is no more due to rising rent costs.
Hopefully, we'll find new secret alleyways with wonderful book shops and hidden treasures.