From literary beacon City Lights to Valencia Street’s beloved Dog Eared Books, San Francisco’s independent bookstores contribute to the character and charm of many of the city’s neighborhoods and commercial corridors.
While Bay Area bookstores certainly faced challenges from Covid restrictions, one silver lining of the pandemic was that many found more time to read than they had in years. Online sales boomed for the independent bookselling platform Bookshop.org and sales of print books jumped 8.2% year over year in 2020 according to Publishers Weekly.
Hours spent in solitude may have also led to a newfound appreciation for the neighborhood bookstore—a “safe space” and center for community—observes Eileen McCormick, assistant store manager of independent bookseller Green Apple Books.
“I do think overall something that happened during Covid is people took a step back and started to understand the value of the community that they're in and the people that are around them,” McCormick said. “I think that there has been a ton of support for independent bookstores because of that.”
According to McCormick, before the pandemic online sales for the store “functioned in a pretty small capacity.” But now, “it is a much larger part of our everyday business.”
Now, as the city dials back Covid restrictions and mask mandates, San Franciscans can appreciate local indepdendent bookstores in ways they haven’t been able to over the past two years. Independent Bookstore Day, celebrated every year on the last Saturday in April, is right around the corner—and local booksellers are ready to welcome bookworms back with literary events and other bookish activities.
“It's a great time to connect with local people… and just sort of celebrate books and celebrate the neighborhood,” said McCormick. “We're excited for this year in particular, too, because obviously over the past few years we've had to have pretty abbreviated versions of Independent Bookstore Day, but we're going pretty all out this year.”
At Green Apple Books on Clement Street, the bookstore will host a mad libs challenge, a zine pop-up, a haiku battle and “pun-off” hosted by the storytelling podcast and live event series, Muni Diaries. Kids can find fun in actvities like face painting and a scavenger hunt, while adults can enjoy spipping on mimosas or beer from Lost Marbles Brewpub.
Over at the Green Apple’s Inner Sunset location, the store will host a benefit concert and book drive for the Prisoners Literature Project as well as hourly book raffles and button making. In conjunction with this event, Emma Bland Smith, author of The Gardener of Alcatraz, will read from her latest book at the San Francisco Botanical Garden as part of the inaugural new series Books on the Garden.
Bay Area-based bookshop chain, Books Inc., will also host a bevy of events across its San Francisco stores, including a discussion with New York Times bestselling author Janelle Brown about her new suspense novel I’ll Be You at its Marina location; a children’s storytime with local author Nina LaCour at its Laurel Village locale; and at its Opera Plaza store, Stanford-trained psychiatrist Dr. Mimi Winsberg, will discuss her new love and dating book, Speaking in Thumbs: A Psychiatrist Decodes Your Relationship Texts So You Don't Have To.
At Bookshop West Portal you can try your hand at “Bookstore Bingo” or “Bookstore Mad Libs” and pair your bookish activities with pastries from Noe Valley Bakery in the morning, slices from Mozarella Di Bufala Pizzeria in the afternoon and Shaw’s Ice Cream Cart for dessert.
And finally, Book Passage in the Ferry Building will host New York Times bestselling author and Family Guy writer Gary Janetti, who’s recently penned a collection of hilarious, true life stories in Start Without Me, also on Saturday.
— Christina J. Campodonico
Saturday, April 30
Various Times & Locations
Jolene’s, 2700 16th St.
Thursday, April 28, 8 p.m. | $10
This week is Lesbian Visibility Week. However, while San Francisco has plenty of all-encompassing queer bars—designated safe spaces for folks in the LGBTQ+ community—there are very few geared specifically toward women seeking other women. Jolene’s is one of the last of its kind in the city and one of a dwindling number nationwide. Call shots, drink shots and show your support for Jolene’s this Thursday at the Mission District bar’s Queer Pool Tournament. Pool sharks will play for a $50 bar tab, a trophy and “mad bragging rights,” plus a shoutout on the bar’s Instagram. Eight slots are open and tickets are $10. (CJC)
Leica Store, 463 Bush St.
Saturday, April 30, 2 p.m.
Leica, the Rolls Royce of cameras, and Taschen, a luxury art book publisher, are bringing together legendary photographers and local photo-fanatics to launch a new photo book showcasing the stunning beauty of San Francisco. Photographic icons Fred Lyon, Bill Owens, Janet Delaney, Mimi Plumb, Arthur Tress, Jeffrey Braverman and more will be signing copies of the book, San Francisco: Portrait of a City—where 500 pages of local landmarks and fun fashion are highlighted with thoughtful compositions. The photos, some recent and some ancient, are likely to make any San Franciscan feel both nostalgic and right at home, all at once. The event is sure to appeal to anyone who appreciates fine photographs of our city, while the store's selection of high-end cameras and gear will give shutterbugs plenty to drool over. (CC)
Presidio Theatre, 99 Moraga Ave.
Saturday, April 30, 7:30 p.m. | $35+
In the two decades from the early 1990s through the end of the aughts Kitty Margolis embodied the adventurous spirit of San Francisco’s jazz vocal scene. At some point along the way, tired of local gigs, she started focusing on out-of-town dates, and her first Bay Area performance since the pandemic offers a welcome chance to get reacquainted with an artist inspired by the breadth of American music. Working with a new quintet stocked with improvisers—including pianist John R. Burr, bassist Dan Robbins, guitarist Dave Mac Nab, saxophonist Alfonso Montuori, and the persuasively grooving Deszon X. Claiborne on drums, Margolis will be having her way with everyone from Sondheim and Percy Mayfield to Hank Williams and the Gershwins. (AG)
Grant Ave. between Green St. and Pacific Ave.
Saturday, April 30, 2 p.m. | $20
Whether fettuccine or low mein is your jam, there’s something for everybody at Noodlefest, which makes its triumphant return to Chinatown and North Beach after a 10-year hiatus this Saturday. This cross-cultural and inter-neighborhood celebration of everything from gnocchi pomodoro to Nepalese fried noodles features strings, strips and tubes of dough from 30 different vendors to slurp, twirl or nosh as well as noodle-making demonstrations and live music.
Celebrity chef and James Beard Lifetime Achievement Award recipient Martin Yan; San Francisco Chronicle restaurant critic Soleil Ho; and the city’s king of living large on the cheap, Broke-Ass Stuart, will taste test a slew of noodles to crown a winner. While the event is sold out, a limited number of tickets will be available on Saturday on a first-come, first-served basis, so scurry over early to grab one of these golden tickets. (CJC)
District 6, 428 11th St.
Saturday, April 30 | $5-$60
Noodlefest attendees beware: Filling up on rolled dough, means you may not have room for the oodles of ube on tap at the District 6 event space over on the Mission-SoMa border. In recent years, this violet colored root vegetable has popped up in ice cream, brownies, macarons and even doughnuts. At Ube Fest, you can sample lilac cupcakes from Filipino fusion bakery Marley’s Treats, mauve crinkle cookies, rice crispy treats and fudge from SF’s own Buko Bakes or a vegan doughnut treatment of ube from roaming pastry pop-up Whack Donuts, among others. (CJC)
Museum of the African Diaspora, 685 Mission St,
Saturday, April 30, 2 p.m.
The de Young has free admission for Bay Area residents on Saturdays. The Asian Art Museum offers free entry the first Sunday of the month. And now, admission to the Museum of the African Diaspora (MoAD) will be free the last Saturday of each month. To celebrate, the museum will host an afternoon demonstration from 2 to 3:30 p.m. with artist Mahealani Uchiyama discussing the history and tradition of the Mbira, a ceremonial Zimbabwean instrument. Visitors can also check out David Huffman’s haunting images of Black “Traumanauts” “consoling the wounded or walking tightropes in the sky” in the exhibit Terra Incognita, the still life genre reworked to reflect Black diasporic identities and histories in the exhibition Elegies, or the textile artwork of Cynthia Aurora Brannvall exploring the fabric interlacing labor, trade, industry and slavery to rites of passage such as weddings, baptisms and funerals in The Threads that Bind.
The free admission day is supported by sponsorship from Kaiser Permanente, but if you have a chunk of change to spare and would like to give back to the nonprofit art museum, MoAD hosts its benefit auction on Artsy featuring paintings, photography, sculptures and prints by an all-star lineup of artists from across the African diaspora. Bidding is open from April 28 to May 12. (CJC)
Various Locations, Chinatown
Saturday, April 30, 3 p.m. | Free
The inaugural “Neon Was Never Brighter” festival is meant to celebrate the legacy of Chinatown. Neon is a metaphor for Chinatown’s brightness and strength, and a literal reference to the neighborhood’s many vintage neon signs. as the event title is Chinatown’s self-proclamation for a brighter future. The event will also kick off the city’s observation of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, a time for San Francisco’s AAPI community to band together and honor its collective culture and individual histories. The festival will feature a series of artists and events across Chinatown—including film, music, dance, performance and visual arts. (HL)
Hunters Point Shipyard Artists, 451 Galvez Ave.
Saturday-Sunday, April 30-May 1
The Hunters Point Shipyard Studios community is celebrating the changing of the seasons with their annual Open Studios event this weekend. Located in the decommissioned Navy shipyard at Hunters Point, the colony is the home base of about 300 artists—and claims to be the largest of its kind in the entire country. So bring your wallet and a sense of history. Painters, sculptors, jewlers, furniture makers and jewlers will be on hand to greet visitors, discuss what they do and how they do it. (MM)
Cafe du Nord, 2714 Market St.
Sunday, May 1, 8 p.m. | $15
Amidst Pom Pom Squad's crunchy power pop hooks and modern rock-facing arrangements, one hears singer/guitarist/founder Mia Berrin's reflective and frequently pop culture-referencing lyrics. With a nod to Smokey Robinson (on "Second That") and Sophia Coppola's The Virgin Suicides (via "Lux," which was named after the lead character Kirsten Dunst portrays), Berrin's songwriting draws on collective memories, universal experiences and her own perspective as a queer woman of color. And the inclusion of any of the Brooklyn indie rock quartet's covers—"Crimson + Clover," FKA Twigs' "Cellophane," Nada Surf's "Popular"—would make Sunday's already anticipated setlist even better. (YK)
The Standard Salon, 2505 Mariposa St.
Thursday, May 4, 6 p.m. | $15
Local photographer Jay Blakesberg has made a career of documenting the rich and storied tradition of live music in the Bay Area. Next Thursday, the San Francisco Standard hosts a discussion and exhibit, which looks back on Blakesberg’s catalog of iconic images and the history he captured. Into the Mystic: A Visual History of Bay Area Rock Palaces features snapshots of rock and roll legends, such as Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger and Kurt Cobain, among others. The unifying thread tying all of these shots together is Bill Graham—the pioneering live music promoter who harnessed the creative output of San Francisco’s 1960s and ’70s counter culture to lay the foundation for the modern live music industry. Blakesberg will be on hand to greet visitors and talk with Ben Fong-Torres, former music editor of Rolling Stone, which published its first issue out of San Francisco in 1967. (MM)
Christina Campodonico, Camille Cohen, Andrew Gilbert, Yoshi Kato, Han Li and Meaghan Mitchell contributed additional reporting for this story.
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