I am starting a new series today interviewing independent bookstore owners. If you want to participate, send me an email!
The name of our bookstore is the Russian Hill Bookstore. Our namesake is derived from the name of the neighborhood in which our shop is located.
Where is it located?
Our shop is located in the Russian Hill neighborhood of San Francisco, California, though it was originally founded across town in the neighborhood called the Sunset District.
How long have you owned the bookstore?
Ben and I are just about to celebrate our third year as the owners of this business.
Why did you buy/open a bookstore?
We both worked as employees at the bookstore for 12 and 8 years respectively before we bought the shop. We decided to buy the store to keep it from closing with the founder’s retirement. We love bookstores and we especially love this one. The store itself will be celebrating its 46th birthday this upcoming September the 13th.
What is the cool part of owning a bookstore?
I think the coolest part about owning a bookstore is that I get the opportunity to see some rare books. For example, we get to see signed copies, first printings, and even books dating back to the 1600’s! I also love getting to spend time with our readers and help them find some new books to read that they might not have heard of yet. We also love being able to feature the artwork of many independent and local artists. A big part of our store is dedicated to greeting cards. Would you believe that we carry handmade cards from over 400 independent artists? One of our favorite parts of our bookstore is the mural on our sale-book bin. It was painted by a fantastic local artist and features a woman who is dressed in a way that women used to dress in the late 1800’s-early 1900’s in San Francisco.
Any authors you think middle grade readers should check out?
I have a lot of favorite authors here! I would love to share two of my favorites with you. One series that I love is the Book Scavenger, by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman (https://bookscavenger.com/). My favorite thing about this book is that Jennifer wrote it while living across the street from our bookstore. After the first book was published, she told us that the bookstore in The Book Scavenger, Hollister’s, is actually based on our shop!
Another author who I love is Ursula LeGuin. She wrote an amazing middle-grade series called the Earthsea Cycle. When I was growing up, she had only written 3 volumes of the series before taking a break. I am thrilled to say that since then she finished the series for a total of 6 books. If you like magic and adventure, this is a fantastic books series!
What is a hard part of owning a bookstore?
I would say the hardest, and most boring, part about owning a bookstore is handling all of the behind the scenes work it takes to keep our doors open. This includes things like taxes, budgeting, and navigating the myriad of legal requirements for businesses to operate as decided by the city of San Francisco.
How has COVID-19 impacted your bookstore?
On March 17th, 2020, the city of San Francisco instituted a Shelter in Place order. We were considered a non-essential business, and were told we would no longer be able to be open for business. We are still allowed to sell things online, but we are only allowed to either ship items to people’s homes, or we can deliver to them. Part of city life here means that neither Ben nor I own a car, and we typically walk or bicycle everywhere we go. This means that we are walking our deliveries all over the city to bring them to our readers’ homes. Also, since most of our business is from our readers walking into our store, we do not have a full catalog of the things we sell on our website to buy. We are doing our best to add books for sale online as quickly as possible!