Noe Valley Voice September 2003

Cover to Cover: The Sequel

By Laura McHale Holland

With a full inventory of books and a mountain of community support, Cover to Cover Booksellers has re-opened in a new location--on Castro Street in the heart of Noe Valley.

In June, store partners Tracy Wynne, Mark Ezarik, and Paula Foley had announced that they were closing the book on a business that had served the neighborhood for 20 years but which was sinking deeply into debt. Their friends and neighbors, however, stepped in and wrote a different chapter for the 24th Street institution.

In less than a month, a dedicated network of concerned book lovers raised the $200,000 needed to cover outstanding debts and to supply fresh capital. Forty patrons, including noted novelist Nick Hornby and neighborhood merchant Phoenix Books, each ponied up $5,000 in interest-free loans to be repaid over six years. Meanwhile, the "Magnificent 40," as they are affectionately called, will enjoy a hefty discount on store merchandise.

The store has turned a corner--literally--and shop owners now are preparing for a celebration on Oct. 11 to herald the move from Cover to Cover's previous location, on 24th Street between Vicksburg and Church, to 1307 Castro Street, next-door to Walgreen's.

"It's just been a heartbreakingly wonderful event," Wynne said of the bookstore's salvation. "I thought that I would be devastated at having to close the store, but people took us by the hand and told us to hang on and that they would help. That's exactly what happened."

When the bookstore posted an announcement in its window that it was closing, Elizabeth Street resident Peter Gabel and a handful of others took matters into their own hands. An Internet bulletin board was set up to spread the news and solicit donations and pledges to buy books on a monthly basis to help keep the store afloat.

To date, more than 700 people have promised to purchase $25 worth of books from Cover to Cover each month. Gabel expects that number to grow to 1,000 by the day of the grand opening.

"A neighborhood can either be a collection of separated people who are at the mercy of market forces or a group of connected people who take a strong role in creating the culture of the neighborhood," he said. "This campaign has shown that it's possible to support an idealistic venture like a bookstore in which each generation's children come to learn, to read, and grow to love books and knowledge."

The story of the new location began in July, when store partners were despairing of finding an affordable spot in the neighborhood. A friend urged Wynne to look at the storefront at 1307 Castro Street, which was being vacated by Natural Resources childbirth education center. (That store has temporarily moved to Bernal Heights, but it plans to re-open soon in the former storefront of Edward Jones at 816 Diamond Street, near 24th Street.) Wynne hesitated. "I thought that being off 24th Street would be certain death. Mark had to practically drag me up here, but as soon as I stepped into the store, I could see the possibilities," she said while signing a receipt for 10 boxes of books delivered to the shop.

With a rent payment of "far less than half" of what they paid at their former 24th Street location, Cover to Cover's cash flow will allow for keeping the store lively and well stocked, Wynne said.

"We'll be able to start doing events again, and the layout of the store is much more intimate. It's a style that's very much compatible with what we are," she said. "Plus, Walgreen's, the Post Office, and Bank of America are all within spitting distance."

The store also may benefit from its proximity to such family-friendly merchants as Terra Mia and Peek-a-Boutique, she added.

Cover to Cover is operating on a new business plan formulated by Foley, the store's newest partner, who consulted a pro bono accountant found with the help of Supervisor Bevan Dufty and the Mayor's Office of Community Development. In addition to the business plan, Foley set up a customer database (for in-house use only) and a new accounting system to allow for rapid turnaround on special orders. Also in the works are replacing a costly print newsletter with an e-mail zine, and a bicycle delivery service powered by Ezarik's 12-year-old son, Andrew.

Wynne said she hopes to sustain community support by offering things that are unique to a locally owned, independent bookseller. For example, the store can be more homey than a retail chain. In fact, the new shop has curtains sewn by Wynne's mother. It also will employ local people who are passionate and knowledgeable about books.

And, Wynne said, "Inventory for places like Barnes and Noble and Borders is bought by a central buyer somewhere back East. We really know our inventory and tailor things specifically to this community. We don't sell product; we sell books. To the larger corporations it could just as well be toothpaste.

"For us," she went on, "each book has a personality, and we take our role as booksellers very seriously. We see our position in the chain of information as a real responsibility."

For details on Cover to Cover's grand opening celebration, call 282-8080, or stop by the store at 1307 Castro Street, between Jersey and 24th streets. The shop is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. h