In 2011, San Francisco Weekly named the Booksmith the Best Reimagined Bookstore. Christin Evans and Praveen Madan, the couple who’d bought the 31-year-old Haight-Ashbury business in 2007, had repainted the interior; expanded the graphic novel, magazine, and zine offerings; and launched a series of lively, literary game nights and other social events. Some of the best known included Shipwreck, which the Booksmith declared was “San Francisco’s premier literary erotic fanfiction event” (it’s unclear what, if any, were the other contenders); elaborate themed book launches; and BookSwap, wherein folks brought books on similar themes and were matched in discussion groups over cocktails before a big book swap at the end of the night.
This article appears in the Summer 2022 issue of Alta Journal.
Last year, the Booksmith executed a second great reimagining. The shop moved one block down Haight Street into a performance space it was already leasing for events. Evans also co-owns the Alembic, a craft-cocktail bar next door that serves small bites, allowing attendees to nibble and sip during in-store events. The drinkery’s slogan: “Read. Drink. Eat. Think.” Though the new location is about the same size as the previous one, it feels larger, with three rooms and multiple sections identified by colorful, hand-drawn and -lettered signs and by famous literary quotes on long, framed chalkboards. Luxe touches like Turkish rugs, end tables with potted plants, and a little reading alley appointed with tufted leather settees invite customers to settle in and read, which is just what Evans is hoping for. “Indies have to remain relevant,” she says. “The chandeliers, the pop art magical eye, the shelf toppers with recommendations are all designed to create a good browsing experience, a space people want to spend time in.”
The result is a refuge from Haight Street’s craziness, a secret garden for booklovers seeking respite from psychedelic-colored Victorians, vintage-clothing shops, and hordes of tourists hoping to glimpse the Summer of Love. The Booksmith maintains strong community ties by hosting debut authors from the neighborhood for events and by using Upstream, a service pioneered by Daniel Handler, a.k.a. Lemony Snicket, that provides signed, personalized books for customers. The store also boasts strong offerings in rock biographies; art, fashion, and photography books; and cultural histories that honor the neighborhood’s DNA. As befits an indie located in the birthplace of the 1960s counterculture movement, the Booksmith organized postcard-writing campaigns during the Trump administration, was one of the first stores to boycott Simon & Schuster for contracting controversial figure Milo Yiannopoulos, and is intentional about book buying that uplifts untold stories rather than promoting whatever New York is pushing. Even though independent bookstores make up only 10 percent of the U.S. book market, Evans explains, they’re responsible for 50 percent of a book’s first six months of sales: “Here at Booksmith, we take our role in connecting readers to new voices very seriously.”•
1727 Haight St., San Francisco, booksmith.com
Is your favorite indie bookstore missing from this list? Fill out this form or drop us a line at email@example.com to let us know whom we missed and why they should be included. Visit altaonline.com/bookstores for frequent additions.