November 01, 2007

Origin of the Bookstore, Part the Thirteenth

For the last year, we've been doing a special feature each month about what Borderlands is and how it got that way.  This is the last of the special features, showcasing stories from customers about how they discovered the store.


I moved to San Francisco on November 10th, 1997 -- 3 days before my 22nd birthday, and apparently, just after Borderlands opened. I don't remember how I learned about the store, but it must have been a only few days after I arrived. I had an apartment, a small amount of money, no job, and a lot of time to wander around this new city I was already falling in love with. Somehow I found the store, and it's charming owner, and it's wonderful (if smallish, then) selection. It already felt like a great place, and I was impressed with the combination of polish and homeyness -- as much as I appreciate the "scary cave" school of used bookstores, my eyes and sinuses prefer the Borderlands approach. Alan told me to come back for the 'official' grand opening. I did. Books started their inevitable flow from Hayes Valley to the pile next to my bed (and, occasionally, the other way).

Borderlands became a regular haunt, and I proudly introduced others to it when I could -- new friends, old friends, my family when they visited, a charming & lovely woman from the east coast when she did.

10 years have passed. Borderlands has moved, expanded, changed, acquired new folks (Jude, Ripley, Jeremy, and the others). There've been amazing events: John Shirley getting flustered while reading an over-the-top story in front of a grade-school fan, David Brin heckling the audience, being introduced to Sean Stewart and Karen Joy Fowler at one go.

I've moved (SOMA to the mission, out to Mountain View, back to San Francisco and the sunset). The charming & lovely woman from the east coast moved west (and reader, I married her). We have a daughter. All along the way, this funny little bookstore with the Staff of Impeccable Taste, cozy feel, and hairless cat have been a part of it.

A decade later, I'm still in love with San Francisco. I stop by Borderlands whenever I can. It's been a good 10 years. I look forward to the next ten.

-- James Reffell


I've known Borderlands almost its whole life. I worked in a café around the corner in Hayes Valley when it first opened, and then was delighted when it moved over to the Valencia. I've found it to be one of the most welcoming, clean and well-designed bookstores I've ever met, with some of the loveliest people. I'm always made welcome and never made to feel rushed or uneasy about my literary choices (or anything else, for that matter).

Borderlands embodies something I had sought for quite some time in my life: the bookstore in the possessive sense. Don't get me wrong, this is Alan's shop, and we're all clear on (and quite happy about) that. The thing that's extra wonderful is that it's my bookstore too, and it belongs to every one of its regulars.

"Where you headed?"

"Oh, thought I‚d head on down to my bookstore."

"Yeah? Which is that?"

"Borderlands, the best sci-fi / fantasy / horror (or supernatural, depending on your particular bendy-bits) bookstore in the entire Bay Area."

"Killer! Mind if I come along?"

"Heck, no. They sure won't."

Thanks Alan, Jude, Jeremy, Carrie, Heather, Francis, Claude, Ben, and all the evil-elves, for a shop that I can call home.

Bright Blessings,

-- Ian Carruthers

I met my husband at Borderlands!  I had bought books from Tachyon via the old SF Book Festivals, and ebay, so I decided to attend the 2003 Tachyon Anniversary Party at Borderlands.  I asked Alan to introduce me to Jacob Weisman, publisher, because a.) I wanted to buy a first edition of The Rhinoceros Who Quoted Nietzsche from him; b.) I thought hey, Jacob's cute! and c.) I thought, maybe he reads the same books I do!

Fast calls to like, and we were married this past June.  We couldn't have done it without Borderlands, as not only did they provide friendship (and advice!) BEFORE the wedding, but we registered at the store, Alan volunteered his services as DJ, and Jude and Carey were our fantastic bartenders, making sure all our guests were kept happy.  We love you guys!

-- Rina Wiseman

"Finding the Perfect Fix"

One of the ways that I know I'm upset is when I walk into a bookstore and nothing appeals to me. I'll walk in, look blankly at the shelves of books, and maybe even look at one or two.  But none of them break through the impenetrable cloud of gray that is me being upset.

When I first walked into Borderlands in January, I had plenty of reason to be upset.  I had left my job in what amounted to the emotional equivalent of a very-bad-horrible-no-good breakup.  And I was two weeks into what was my first real downtime since the insanity of my college career knocked me on my arse 7 years ago.  And to top it off, I had read pretty much everything by every author that I already knew.

And yet.

With the warm, dark wooden floor and the obviously loved rugs, Borderlands promised me something more than my grayness.  See, generally these bookstores that I walk into when I'm looking for my literary fix are institutional chains.  And trust me.  I need that literary fix.  I'm a book addict in the devouring books sense.  In the generally reading at least one if not more books a week sense.  In the horribly inconvenient, "tell me what author to read next because I've read everything already" sense.

The very lived in, loved in quality here pretty much turns to the gray shapelessness and says, 'pshaw, I've seen your like before.  I've owned you before and I'll own you again now. Kneel or be vanquished.' At which point the shapeless mass rolls in on itself, kneels and backs quickly in the direction of the exit.

So, back to January.  I've been told by people that clearly since my fix of choice is sci-fi and fantasy, that I need to come check this place out.  Clearly.  So I finally get off my arse and get it down to the mission.  I walk in, and wander around a bit.  I think I actually picked up one book.  Eventually I got up the nerve to bother the people in the office for a recommendation.  Alan cheerfully came out and helped me.  By helped, I mean spent 5-10 minutes walking around the store with me discussing which authors I liked and then free-associating books and authors he thought I might enjoy.  And generally, he was on point.  Especially for talking with me for all of ten minutes.  He got me hooked on one series to the point where I preordered the latest in the series from england because it would take too long to come out in the US.  Did I mention that I'm addicted to books?

From that first time, Borderlands has cemented itself in the list of my favorite places to go visit, to talk about and to recommend to others.  Hell, I've even dragged several of my friends here, for author talks, or just generally to impress upon them the coolness of this place.

Because deep down, its people doing what they love even when its aggravating or otherwise not entirely perfect.  And its that core of actual passion for the craft of the written fantastic that imbues the wooden floor with its warmth, the older rugs with their 'well-loved' look, and the air with the gray-defeating ninja-attitude.  Its the atmosphere that I was looking for and never found at the previous job, and that one day I still hope I'll find for myself.  In the meanwhile, when I need my fix, I know where to find it.

-- Hilary Karls


Thanks to everyone who took the time to contribute to this final article about the history of the store.  Each of these stores has given the whole staff a smile and brightened our days.  Thanks for the support and for the stories.  I'm looking forward to the next ten years of them.

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