Wednesday, January 07, 2009
Stacey's Bookstore closing down in S.F.
Stacey's Bookstore, the iconic San Francisco shop that called Market Street home for all of its 85 years and had carved out a niche for technical publications, announced Tuesday evening that it would close in March.
Like other independent book sellers, Stacey's had been hurt over the past decade by the rise of national chains, like Barnes & Noble, and Web-based booksellers, such as Amazon.com. The store's general manager, Tom Allen, said sales had dropped 50 percent since March 2001.
But the final blow was the crumbling economy, which hit hard during the holidays. Stacey's sales in the fourth quarter of 2008 plummeted 15 percent from the same period in 2007.
"That in itself would not have spelled the end," said Allen. "But it came on top of several years of more gradual decline."
The store was founded in 1923 by John W. Stacey in the historic Flood Building on the corner of Market and Powell streets. Stacey specialized in medical books, a niche that made him a rarity at the time, Allen said. Over the years, the store would build its reputation as a home for technical books for professionals. It would expand, establishing other Stacey's Bookstores in Palo Alto, Modesto, Richmond, Cupertino, Los Angeles and San Bernardino - though the current Market Street location is now the last one standing.
In 1947, Stacey's started a series of professional books that included some of the first books on computers, a status that Stacey's claims earned it recognition in Publishers Weekly as "the most modern bookstore in the country." It moved to its current location, at 851 Market St., in the 1950s, when it also became a general interest bookstore.
Even today, the store has sections on engineering, chemistry, construction manuals, and complex math and science texts, though they only account for 15 percent of the sales. Allen said the era when technical books were obscure has vanished.
In many cases, "information available on the Web has made it unnecessary to buy a book on a technical subject," said Allen, who has worked at the store for the past 11 years.
The store's distinct location, on the edge of San Francisco's Financial District, gave it an unusual customer base. While suburban bookstores might have their busiest times on weekday evenings or weekends, Stacey's thrived on the lunch hour crowds.
Still, as word trickled out Tuesday evening, customers said they were stunned by the news.
"I'm devastated," said Melissa Davis, 37, who had picked up Spanish and Italian language CDs and an Italian grammar book and has shopped at the store regularly for eight years.
When other independent bookstores closed, Davis vowed to shop at Stacey's more. Still, she wondered how Stacey's survived.
"I guess they're hit by it as well," said Davis, a San Francisco resident.
Now, she hopes that a community effort will help save it, similar to what happened with Kepler's Books in Menlo Park. Davis said independent bookstores make sure that there's a diversity of opinion, and not one that's dictated by corporate mandates.
"If you lose an independent bookstore, you're losing an independent voice," she said.
John Himel picked up a book on digital video and another on internal medicine. The former electrical engineer said he feels like the store's closing reflects a shift in how society views learning.
"Books are the greatest obsession," said Himel, 43, a San Francisco resident who now works as an elderly caretaker. "You must have books to think and improve your life."
Igor Royzen understands that people can buy books on the Web. But the chess enthusiast is always amazed at how every time he went to Stacey's, there was a book on chess that he had never seen before.
"Yeah, you can do it on the Web, but it takes away from human interaction," said Royzen, 33, a computer programmer from Daly City. Standing in the third-floor reading area, which overlooks Market Street, Royzen added, "people can also sit here and enjoy a wonderful view. You don't have that on the Internet."
Matthai Kuruvila, San Francisco Chronicle Staff Writer
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