Later today, I’m heading over to Phoenix Books for the goodbye party celebrating their 28 years in business in Noe Valley. Then tomorrow Kate and I and various employees and helpers will show up at the store to inventory the contents and split up what goes with Kate to her other three stores, and what stays to become the kernel of Folio Books.
It’s a bittersweet time. I’m so very excited to be starting Folio Books, and I’m happy for Kate, who has kept Phoenix a healthy ongoing concern for almost three decades, and now gets to close the business in a way that works for her. We’ve all seen a lot of bookstores close in the last 10 or 15 years, though, usually in less positive circumstances, and I for one react in a visceral way. It’s never easy to see them go.
When I lived in Noe Valley in the 80’s and 90’s I read mostly mysteries, and I mainly shopped at the San Francisco Mystery Bookstore, then on Diamond Street just at 24th. I also shopped at Cover to Cover, Phoenix, and Carroll’s in the neighborhood. I worked right near Stacey’s so I was in there a lot, and at A Clean Well Lighted Place for Books before or after symphony concerts. I miss all of those stores. When Stacey’s went out of business, I was managing the Book Passage bookstore at the Ferry Building. They were our nearest and biggest competitor, but I was nothing but sorry to see them go.
I know that many of Phoenix’s customers are relieved that there will still be a bookstore in Noe Valley, but that they have a bond with Phoenix that isn’t going to go away just because Phoenix has gone away. I completely get that. I also know that for those who have a strong preference for used books, it’s a disappointment that Folio books will be new/remainders rather than used/new/remainders. The good news is that Noe Valley has a fine branch library, that it will have a healthy and thriving bookstore, and that Kate’s other 3 stores are only a short distance away. Alley Cat, in particular, is only an 8-minute ride down 24th Street on the 48 bus.
Although Phoenix was not my primary bookstore back in my Noe Valley days, I liked to stop by in the evening and look at the remainders table. I have one memory of all of those evenings that is still so clear in my mind. It was the usual thing – the dark night outside, the warm light inside, and chatting with James from his place behind the counter. And that night I was looking for Tony Horwitz’s Confederates in the Attic, but had gotten the title mixed-up with George Saunders’ CivilWarLand in Bad Decline and asked for that instead. In fine bookseller fashion, it only took a couple of questions for James to decipher what I meant.