January 27, 2020

We're Moving in May

by Alan Beatts

Happy New Year All!

I hope that 2020 is treating you well.  As far as years go, 2019 was an often challenging one and, to be honest, I'm happy to see the back of it.  I think that 2020 is going to be . . . interesting . . . as well; but I hope in a much more positive way.  Something that is going to make this year especially interesting is that we're going to be moving our store.

"There's no knowing where we're rowing
Or which way the river's flowing"
- R. Dahl

If you've been following these newsletter for a while, you can probably skip down to the part that starts with "A scheme is not a vision" but, for folks who haven't been around for the past two years, here is the short version of what's going on.  In 2015, we planned to close the store because the increasing minimum wage in San Francisco was going make Borderlands unsustainably unprofitable (i.e. losing more than $30,000 a year by the time we were done). Rather than do that, we planned to close.  But, once we announced that, our customers inspired us to try to find a solution.  We started a sponsorship program that worked better than we could have imagined (more about that next month - but, if you want an outline read here - http://borderlands-sponsors.blogspot.com/p/why-sponsorships.html ).  Six years later, it's still working and going strong.

With that problem solved (and with a new sense of obligation to our customers), we started looking to the future for what the next problem would be.  The conclusion we came to was that the end of our current lease in 2021 would be a disaster.  Rents in San Francisco have climbed a lot since 2011, when we signed our current lease, and they've gone up even more than average on Valencia St.  There was no chance that we would be able to pay the new rent when the lease was up.

So, around 2016, we started looking for a building that we could buy and have as our permanent home.  It was a long shot, both because our down-payment would be low (though not tiny since we had been able to save much of the extra money that our sponsors had given us) and because it was going to be hard to find a building that would work.  Despite all that, in late 2017 we found a place and we managed to raise the money to purchase it.  In fact, we raised the entire purchase price by borrowing from fifty of our customers and sponsors.

The building is a lovely 1902 three-story Victorian at 1377 Haight St. that used to be the home of a used record shop.  There are two (rented) apartments upstairs, which give us enough income to cover the expenses for the building (at least they will once we add in the rent that the bookstore will pay).  The actual store location is a little bit smaller than our current space but, because of it's shape, it will actually work (and, I think, feel) like a bigger store.

Since the purchase we've been remodeling the store so that it will work for us for years and years to come.  It's been a long, slow process, in part because almost all of the work has been done by me and a group of volunteers.  But, the time it's taken us to get the job done is far outweighed by the money we've saved by doing it ourselves.

We're still a far way from being finished but we've set a date to be open and operating at the new building -- May 25th of this year.  Between now and then there will be a lot going on and I thought you might like to hear about the plan.

"A scheme is not a vision"
- L. Cohen

Thankfully, I've had the experience of moving a (granted, much smaller) store in the past.  And, I've helped out with a couple other store moves.  By now, I think that my schemes on the subject are pretty good.  However, as Jude is fond of saying, "The Universe abhors a plan" and so we're going to keep the following a "scheme", not in any way, shape, or form a "plan".  It will certainly change in the specific details as we move along and it may change in a more general sense.  But, for now, this is how we think our relocation to Haight St. is going to play.

Despite my deadline of May 25th, I don't expect that we'll be completely moved by then.  In fact, I don't want to be moved by then.  The last time we moved the shop, way back in 2001, we shut down for a week to do it.  Packing all the books took almost two days, then moving them, then getting them back on the shelves (which weren't all built by that time) . . . it was horrible and exhausting.  Plus it actually took closer to two weeks to get open again.  And the whole time I was hearing the "tick, tick, tick" of the clock since we were, probably, losing a full day of sales every day we were closed.

Not.  Fun.  At.  All.

So, this time, we'll be doing it in stages.  On May 25th . . . yeah, we'll be open at the new shop.  But the inventory will probably consist of new releases and staff reccs but not much else.  And, we'll probably be open limited hours and days.  At the same time, we'll be open normal hours and days at the old store.  If nothing else, having little stock at the new shop means we'll have plenty of room for the opening party -- which will be epic.

Over the following weeks we'll move the inventory over to Haight St. one section (or one part of a section) at a time.  So, on the 1st of June you might come into the store on Valencia to discover that the Mystery section is empty 'cause it's been moved.  Then a couple days later the used Horror section might be moved.  And so on.

Doing it that way has a bunch of advantages.  It'll allow me time to get things finished off at the new shop if I'm not completely done by May (for example, the office is going to be just about the last thing that I build out at Haight St.)  It'll mean that we won't have any days when we're closed for moving.  We'll also have a lot of time at Valencia St. to let customers know that we're moving and where we're moving to.  But probably most importantly it will give us time to sort out problems, in a well-considered and final way, as they come up at the new space rather than rushing to get things fixed "Right Now!"

My best guess is that we'll be completely moved by the middle to end of June.  We'll mark that with a "wake" for the old shop, and then lock the doors an' walk away.

As you're probably imagining, there'll be a ton of work to do through June and so, if you've ever thought it would be fun to move a bookstore (pro tip: it's not but it certainly is an "experience"), we'll be letting people know via this newsletter when we're having a book packing party.

Getting to this point has been the result of a huge effort from more people than I can count.  The First 300 Sponsors who convinced us that we could stay open.  All the sponsors through all the years after that kept supporting us and having faith in us.  The professionals who helped make the building purchase work out (first and foremost among them, Dan Marshall and Lance Fulford of Compass Realty, who were willing to play along with my crazy scheme).  The 50 people who had the belief and trust in us to make the loans on the building.  The trades workers who have been so reasonable and easy to deal with.  Even the city inspectors who have put up with my constant, dumb "I'm not a contractor; in fact I don't even play one on TV" antics.  They all have played a vital part in getting us here.

But, moreso than anyone else, my thanks for two sets of absolutely extraordinary people.  First, the small crew of people who have volunteered their time, weekend after weekend, to getting the job done at Haight St.  All together they have put literally thousands of hours into building our dream.  The remarkable quality of the final product will be, in a large part, due to their efforts.

And second, the outstanding staff of Borderlands Books and Cafe.  In the first place, they made a business that people cared about enough to save.  And, in the second place, they are so damn good at their jobs that I could (and can) take the time to get all this together.

And this is the year that it happens.

"For the rowers keep on rowing
And they're certainly not showing
Any signs that they are slowing."
- R. Dahl

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