Mapping the bookstores

On the Chronicle Books blog site on 9/26, an excellent on-line “Comprehensive Map of All the Bookstores in San Francisco”, featuring this photo of what is probably the city’s most famous bookstore:


About the map. The map looks at first like this:


The map is keyed to a clickable list of 67 stores (some with more than one location in SF). In the form in #2, it’s obviously unusable; you have to zoom out several times to get helpful maps. That will net you maps like these two, for the northeast corner of the city and for a central strip that tracks down Market St. from Union Square to Twin Peaks:

(#3) Bookstores in NE SF

(#4) Bookstores in central SF

The maps are fascinating. There are substantial bookstore deserts, especially in residential neighborhoods without significant business districts or tourist attractions — Pacific Heights and the Sunset, in particular.

The maps also bear witness to an enormous contraction in the number of bookstores, thanks to Amazon’s fatally swamping both Borders Bookstores and a large number of specialty stores and inflicting severe damage on Barnes & Noble. In the area of gender and sexuality, San Francisco no longer has a single bookstore that identifies itself as a gay, lgbt, women’s, or feminist store.

You can find such books, but at stores that fold them into a more general category — like City Lights, in fact, or the Chronicle Books store in the Metreon. A search for gay bookstores in San Francisco brings up this map:


The list of stores accompanying the map includes 6 adult sites, none of them on the Chronicle Books list: two adult DVD stores (Folsom Gulch Bookstore and Mission Secrets) and two stores identified as offering “adult entertainment” (Auto Erotica, Good Vibrations Polk, Rock Hard, and Secrets). The remaining stores:

Bolerium Books (offering “books on social movements”), Borderlands Books (an eclectic store), Browser Books (comic books store), Chronicle Books in the Metreon, City Lights (see below), Dog Eared Books (two sites, in the Casto and on Valencia St.), Green Apple Books (two sites, carrying a wide variety of books), Kayo (used books, including vintage pulp fiction), Whatever (comic books)

Otherwise, only one store, Magazine (specializing in old magazines) is on this list but not on the Chronicle Books list.

Where do people read books? From a Smithsonian Magazine story “These Are America’s Most Well-Read Cities: Did your bookish burg make’s list?” by Erin Blakemore on 5/25/16:

The annual list looks at cities with more than 500,000 residents and ranks them based on their per-capita purchases of books, magazines, and newspapers, both in print and in Kindle format. These cities made the top ten: 1 Seattle, 2 Portland, 3 Washington, D.C., 4 San Francisco, 5 Austin, 6 Las Vegas, 7 Tucson, 8 Denver, 9 Albuquerque, 10 San Diego

Seattle has Elliott Bay, Portland the gigantic Powell’s, D.C. Kramerbooks, and SF City Lights. These are cities with one or two significant — indeed, wonderful — independent bookstores but otherwise not a lot of resources (anymore). My speculation is that a city appears on the list because it has lots of people who read books but is poor in bookstores, so people there turn to the juggernaut Amazon for their needs.

My speculation gets some support from the second 10: Baltimore, Charlotte, Louisville, San Jose, Houston, Nashville, Chicago, Indianapolis, Dallas, San Antonio. Conspiculously absent: Boston, New York, and Philadelphia, historically the American centers of book culture; though they’ve been hit hard by the Amazon onslaught, they still have networks of bookstores of many kinds to serve their residents.

About Chronicle Books. From Wikipedia:

Chronicle Books is a San Francisco-based American publisher of books for adults and children.

The company was established in 1967 by Phelps Dewey, an executive with Chronicle Publishing Company, then-publisher of [the newspaper] the San Francisco Chronicle. In 1999 it was bought by Nion McEvoy, great-grandson of M. H. de Young, founder of the Chronicle, from other family members who were selling off the company’s assets.

… Chronicle Books publishes books in subjects such as architecture, art, culture, interior design, cooking, children’s books, gardening, pop culture, fiction, food, travel, and photography. [Its offerings have a wide appeal, but also include a fair number of quirky items.]

… The company also sells custom publishing service and gift accessories (such as desktop calendars), and operates three retail stores in San Francisco — including one in the base of their corporate headquarters near AT&T Park. [The stores: headquarters store; downtown store at the Metreon; Union Street in the Marina.]

From a 2010 story on the headquarters store:


[On] April 1, 2007, Chronicle Books moved into a former warehouse that, in its original life, was a machine shop servicing ships in San Francisco Bay, just up the block. Two gantry cranes from that era still remain in the lobby. Chronicle’s commitment to creative re-use is manifest on every floor, in many a drawer and many a bin.

About City Lights. From Wikipedia:

City Lights is an independent bookstore-publisher combination in San Francisco, California, that specializes in world literature, the arts, and progressive politics. It also houses the nonprofit City Lights Foundation, which publishes selected titles related to San Francisco culture. It was founded in 1953 by poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Peter D. Martin (who left two years later). Both the store and the publishers became widely known following the obscenity trial of Ferlinghetti for publishing Allen Ginsberg’s influential collection Howl and Other Poems (City Lights, 1956) … City Lights is located at 261 Columbus Avenue, on the nexus of North Beach and Chinatown in San Francisco.

On the nexus of North Beach (to the north) and Chinatown (to the south), on Columbus, just below Broadway — and just north of the Financial District (see the Transamerica Tower on the map). A map centered on Columbus and Broadway:


Note that both Chronicle and City Lights are bookstore-publisher combinations.

One Response to “Mapping the bookstores”

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