January 08, 2021

From the Office

by Alan Beatts

As I write this, it is the evening of Wednesday, January 6th.  It's hard to think that anything I've got to say has any significance in light of what has been (and is) happening in Washington, DC.  But, this is going to pass and we'll move on (though, like much of what 2020 brought us, I don't think we'll be "moving on" in the same way that we were).  So, please forgive the comparative triviality of what follows.

The last year has been crushingly hard for most small businesses and Borderlands was no exception.  Compared to 2019, our sales were down by 45%. That's a really hard hit for a bookstore.  On the other hand, several things were in our favor; we were among the lucky businesses to get a PPP loan from the SBA (which looks to be completely forgivable), we were able to make some changes to the schedule that reduced payroll (without any layoffs), and we have a wonderfully loyal set of customers.

But, the biggest thing we had going for us was that we are not a restaurant or, gods help them, a bar or music venue.  I cannot imagine what the owners of that sort of business have been going through.  Compared to them, at least we've been able to be _open_ through most of the past nine months.

One other thing that has been an immeasurable help over the past year is our sponsor program - https://borderlands-books.com/v2/sponsorships/. It came about in 2015, when I planned to close Borderlands because of the upcoming increases to San Francisco's minimum wage.  Though I enthusiastically support a higher minimum wage, the economics of the business meant that Borderlands wasn't going to be viable if we had to increase wages by almost 50% over three years.  Rather than hold on as long as we could, I decided it was best to close once it became apparent that we wouldn't be able to make it.

I expected that our customers would be upset to hear that we were closing but I totally underestimated the magnitude of the outcry.  To make a long story short(er), as a result of our customers' ideas and input from the staff, we came up with a solution.  

The wage increase was going to put the store roughly $30,000 in the red each year.  To offset that, we asked that 300 people each become "sponsors" at a cost of $100 each.  As long as that continued, each year thereafter, we could remain in business.  The response was overwhelmingly favorable and it has continued so every year since.

This year, more so than any other since 2015, sponsorships of Borderlands are hugely important.  We can continue to operate for at least the next six months under the current circumstances and probably longer but . . . without help, our planned move to our new location is going to be incredibly more difficult.  I'm pretty sure we can do it, regardless of the circumstances, but, at the very least, it won't be the way we've been imagining it.  But, to be painfully honest, I'm not 100% sure that it will be possible.  And that would mean that we will be in a difficult position indeed when our current lease expires in October.

So, if you are already a 2021 sponsor, thank you so much.  If you've been a sponsor in the past but didn't renew (something for which there are a multitude of good reasons), it would really mean a great deal if you came back this year.  And, finally, if you've never been a sponsor . . . becoming one, even if only for this year, will make a truly concrete difference for Borderlands' future.

But, all that aside, Borderlands is not the business that needs your help the most.  As I mentioned, there is a whole set of local businesses that have been hurt much more severely than us.  Restaurants, bars, gyms, nightclubs and live music venues, and many others; they are really struggling and some of them may not survive the next six months.  Many of us are experiencing constrained circumstances right now and, for many people, resources are limited.  So, if you're in a position where you must be selective about what businesses you are going to support -- please, turn your attention to the local businesses that are most at risk.

You can get some takeout from a local restaurant.  Or, even better, go in and pick it up yourself -- the delivery services eat (pun intended) a hell of a lot of restaurant profits.  Almost every local bar has a fund-raiser of some sort going on and, if they don't, they likely have t-shirts and other swag for sale. If live music is your thing, check out the Independent Venue Alliance (https://independentvenuealliance.com).  Also check your favorite place's website 'cause there's a good chance that they're running a "staff relief fund".  Anyway, you get the idea.

You're on this mailing list because you care about bookstores; you already know that the tapestry of locally-owned businesses are the backbone of a city's character.  Among all the things that have been threatened by the past year; those businesses; that backbone -- it's at risk.  Please help all of us get through the next six months so that, when the dust finally clears, SF will still be the city we lived in a year ago.  The alternative is a quasi-dystopian landscape of vacant storefronts and national chains enlivened by the occasional local shop that, somehow, managed to hang on.

If you're interested in becoming a sponsor, you can find more information here - https://borderlands-books.com/v2/sponsorships/ - and you can sign up on-line here - https://borderlands-books.com/v2/become-sponsor/.  You're also welcome to stop by the shop and sign up in person.  Or, if you're truly old-school, you can join by mail; just send your information (name, phone #, email address, and mailing address) to the store address with a check.

Thank you all for your support over the years.  Here's hoping for a much better and brighter year for all of us.

PS  The focus of the preceding was on San Francisco, but it applies regardless of where you call home.  Local businesses really need your support if they are going to make it.  Please do what you can, whether you live in Chapel Hill, USA; Malmo, Sweden, or Helensburgh, Australia.

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