| December-January 2011
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By Steve Steinberg
Nicky Salan loved all children’s books, but one of her favorites was A.A. Milne’sWinnie-the-Pooh. This photo, showing Salan sharing a bench with the real Pooh Bear, used to hang above her desk at Cover to Cover, the bookstore she founded in 1976.
Nicky Salan, founder of the long-celebrated Cover to Cover bookstore, has died. Salan, who was also a pioneer in the San Francisco children’s book trade, passed away on Oct. 10 after a long illness. She was 77.
Cover to Cover was a Noe Valley institution that flourished for almost 30 years at several locations in the neighborhood. The bookstore developed out of Salan’s love for children’s books, which in turn grew out of her efforts to help desegregate the San Francisco city schools back in the 1960s. During that struggle Salan had determined that San Francisco children did not have sufficient access to quality books. “Even the schools did not have enough books for kids to read at that time,” said her daughter, Debra Salan.
Trying to remedy the situation, Salan started a book fair business, called the Book Rack, which she operated out of the basement of her Haight-Ashbury home. She held book fairs in schools and various neighborhood locations twice a week for several years.
In the mid-1970s, Salan took the next step and opened Cover to Cover. The bookstore’s original location was at 24th Avenue and Clement Street in the Richmond District. Initially, Cover to Cover carried mostly children’s books as well as books on Jewish literature and culture. Gradually, Salan expanded her inventory to include more general interest books. “Throughout her career,” said daughter Debra, “my mom’s goal was to match the right person with the right book.”
In the early 1980s, Nicky Salan opened a second Cover to Cover store, in Noe Valley at 24th and Sanchez streets, where See Jane Run is now. Some years later, wanting a larger space, Salan moved the store to 3812 24th St., near the corner of Church Street, occupying today’s Shoe Biz site. Feeling overextended, she eventually decided to close her Richmond District store and concentrate on making the Noe Valley location a success.
One of Salan’s triumphs, and an indication of her standing in the children’s book industry, was the appearance of author J.K. Rowling at a signing and reading of her third Harry Potter book at Cover to Cover in 1999. It was the only signing to take place at a Bay Area bookstore. Over the years, many other noted authors chose Cover to Cover as a setting to introduce their work to the public.
Tracy Wynne, who worked for Salan for nine years from 1990 to 1999, and who in 2000 took over the bookstore with partner Mark Ezarik when Salan decided to retire, said it was “a real honor” to work with her.
“She was incredibly talented when it came to children’s books,” Wynne said, calling her “a national figure” in her field.
Cover to Cover’s last location was on Castro Street, near 24th Street. The store finally shut its doors in 2010, a victim of the economy and the changing nature of the book business.
Nicky Salan was born in Ellicott City, Md., the daughter of Sam and Florence Caplan. Her father owned a general merchandise store and her mother was a teacher and member of the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) during World War II. Salan attended Bucknell University in Pennsylvania before switching to Barnard College in New York City, graduating from there in 1955. While at Bucknell, Salan staked an early claim to fame in the literary world by dating future author Philip Roth for almost a year. Roth, who would later become famous for such works as Goodbye, Columbus and Portnoy’s Complaint, was also a Bucknell student.
After graduation, Nicky wed Marty Salan, a future advertising executive. Early in their marriage, Marty was drafted into the army, and Nicky went with him when he was assigned duty in Hawaii.
On their way back to Maryland after military service, the Salans stopped off in San Francisco. According to Debra, Salan took one look at San Francisco and said, “I’m never leaving this place.”
Salan quickly became involved in community affairs, protesting against the Vietnam War as well as working for the integration of the San Francisco public schools.
In retirement Salan passed her time at her house on Vicksburg Street, where she had moved after she and her husband divorced. She followed the San Francisco Giants religiously, never missing a season opener. She was also an avid crossword puzzle player and a gourmet cook.
Besides daughter Debra, Salan is survived by a son, Fred; three grandsons, Aram, Daniel, and Marco Salan; and her beloved chihuahua mix, Charlie, who “misses her very much.”
Services for Salan were held on Oct. 12 at San Francisco’s Sinai Memorial Chapel. Contributions in Salan’s name are welcomed at the Nicky Salan Library Fund at Grattan School, 165 Grattan St., San Francisco, CA 94117.