Category Archives: bookstores

Some Fun Stuff for your Weekend…

Today you get a list. You love lists. Right?

Here’s a smattering of events happening this weekend. Not comprehensive. Just a few things I thought sounded interesting…

FRIDAY – May 2nd

  • Art Murmur (of course) – It’s First Friday again. With this week of ridiculous summer weather wrapping up, I imagine tonight will be quite a party. For those actually interested in seeing some art, comprehensive list of openings/exhibits here.
  • Project Youthview – 10th Annual Film Screening & Awards Night – At the incredible iconic Paramount Theatre, this event showcases 12 select youth-created film shorts from across the Bay Area, including music videos, documentaries, and animation pieces. The featured 2013 Sundance-winning Documentary Short, Rich Hill, will also be screened. 6:30pm-9:30pm. Cost $20 adults; $7 youth
  • Pro Arts Gallery 40th Birthday Party – a free, inclusive community celebration, kicking off the open studios season with an opportunity to view the Preview Exhibition featuring works by over 400 artists participating in East Bay Open Studios 2014. 6pm-8pm

SATURDAY – May 3rd

  • California Bookstore Day is today, and if you’ve never heard of this before, don’t worry… this is the inaugural event, celebrating more than 90 independent bookstores across the state. Each will feature parties with music, food, drink, and of course authors. I’ve chosen one below to highlight, but do check out your own indie favorite… they’re sure to have something going on.
  • Diesel Bookstore in Rockridge will be featuring one-of-a-kind, limited-edition items like unique books and art, signed prints and lithographs, plus Mac n’ Cheese courtesy of Homeroom, libations from Emma Christensen–brewer and author of True Brews, live vintage acoustic music with Dodge’s Sundodgers, literary karaoke and cocktails. 10am-9pm
  • Linden Street Brewery Feria Urbana – a hip urban fair made up of local artists and designers selling a wide range of items at accessible prices (jewelry, housewares, clothing, ceramics, etc.) Brewery will have beers on tap, local wine tasting, food trucks, and more. Get those Mother’s Day gifts while you’re at it! 12pm-5pm
  • Jack London Square Vintage Car & Truck Show – showcasing more than 60 vintage cars, trucks and motorcycles from the 1920s to 1960s, the waterfront will transform into an auto mecca showcasing rare vehicles. Enjoy live music, delicious eats from Jack London Square’s fantastic restaurants. 10am-4pm
  • Life Size Mousetrap Launch Party at NIMBY – Hosting a kid’s program in the afternoon featuring the Life Size Mousetrap, local gypsy junk rockers Junk Parlor, kids activities, and more. At night doors will open for the “grown-up” kids. They’ll run the Life Size Mousetrap and feature performances from local luminaries of music, dance, aerial acrobatics, burlesque, and more. With full bar, food vendors, a night market and more fun than you can throw a bowling ball at… kid’s program 2-5pm ($5 donation/family); party 9pm-2am

SUNDAY – May 4th

  • Maifest in Oakland – celebrating the cultures of Germany, Austria, and Switzerland through food, beer, music, and dance. Hosted by Oakland Nature Friends this spring festival takes place at our local Tourist Club not far from Joaquin Miller Park (I’ve been to the Marin Tourist Club which is always great fun and can’t wait to check out our local version). Bier, Spätzle, Bratwurst, Kartoffelsalat, and Würstchen. YUM. Bring your Lederhosen! Check here for details. 12pm-5pm. Cost $10

Oakland Tourist Club, Maifest in Oakland, Oakland Nature Friends

Such Singing in the Wild Branches

I recently learned that April is National Poetry Month. Who knew? I didn’t.

I feel like poetry has waned from the day-to-day experiences of most of us. Aside from insertions in the New Yorker or NPR pieces on the current poet laureate, when do we ever hear poetry anymore? It seems as we move farther and farther away from our schooling––studying Shakespeare’s sonnets, writing our own iambic pentameter, or creating simple haikus––our adult work becomes increasingly specialized and often filled with meaningless corporate mumbo jumbo (actualizing monetization strategies, driving bottom line results, blah blah blah). Where’s the soul in it all?

This is why poetry is important. It’s that form of art in which words become more than simply the sum of their parts. More than a bottom line. By strictly constructing with words selected not just for meaning, but also for aesthetic, phonetic and rhythmic qualities, poems are able to vividly convey the deepest experiences of what it means to be human.

Since there are just a few days left in April, I thought I’d post a little something to honor this most refined artistic mode of writing, with a selection below by Mary Oliver. I like it very much.

And if you’d like to actually hear some poetry, there’s a reading this Friday night at Laurel Bookstore in the Laurel district of Oakland. Local writer, poet, and teacher Alison Luterman will be reading from her new collection of poetry Desire Zoo.

* * *

Such Singing in the Wild Branches

It was spring
and I finally heard him
among the first leaves––
then I saw him clutching the limb

in an island of shade
with his red-brown feathers
all trim and neat for the new year.
First, I stood still

and thought of nothing.
Then I began to listen.
Then I was filled with gladness––
and that’s when it happened,

when I seemed to float,
to be, myself, a wing or a tree––
and I began to understand
what the bird was saying,

and the sands in the glass
stopped
for a pure white moment
while gravity sprinkled upward

like rain, rising,
and in fact
it became difficult to tell just what it was that was singing––
it was the thrush for sure, but it seemed

not a single thrush, but himself, and all his brothers,
and also the trees around them,
as well as the gliding, long-tailed clouds
in the perfect blue sky–––all of them

were singing.
And, of course, so it seemed,
so was I.
Such soft and solemn and perfect music doesn’t last

For more than a few moments.
It’s one of those magical places wise people
like to talk about.
One of the things they say about it, that is true,

is that, once you’ve been there,
you’re there forever.
Listen, everyone has a chance.
Is it spring, is it morning?

Are there trees near you,
and does your own soul need comforting?
Quick, then––open the door and fly on your heavy feet; the song
may already be drifting away.

-Mary Oliver

Red Headed Bird

Icons of Oakland’s Grand Avenue

So yesterday’s test was a little too easy, eh? It seems the Pet Hospital sign was the real giveaway… and if that sign clued you in to this awesome stretch of Oakland, these signs should really ring a bell.

I start with The Alley, because it’s a real gem. A one of a kind. An Oaktown original.

I have to admit I’ve only mustered the courage to sing here a couple of times (with a little help from whiskey-on-the-rocks) because Rod Dibble’s regulars are really really good. These folks take their song stylings very seriously. It’s awesome. If you haven’t been, you simply must go.

More reading: Piano man Rod Dibble’s got ’em feeling all right by Peter Hartlaub (sfgate)
piano bar oakland, rod dibble's alley

Next up is The Grand Bakery. As yelper Russ E. said, “If you are a Jew and you don’t know about this place, shame on you.” Always with the guilt! But seriously, this place has incredible chocolate covered macaroons (my personal favorites), and is known for its other delectable Jewish treats like Challah & rugelach. Keep in mind they’re closed on Saturdays. It seems a source of frustration for many, but duh…

kosher bakery oakland, grand avenue bakery

Next up, Kingman’s Lucky Lounge. I don’t do the bar scene too much anymore, but when I did, I loved this spot.  Great ambiance. Cool clientele. DJ’s spinnin’ fresh tunes. And, of course, tasty drinks.

lucky lounge, grand avenue bars, oakland bars

Now the Coffee Mill I’m not quite as familiar with, but as I was heading across the street to shoot their sign, which I love, the woman next to me was telling her little girl that they have the best Chai Latte in the world. That’s quite a claim. They seem to be known for their delicious breakfasts more than their coffee. Any of you fans? Give me the scoop…
grand avenue cafes, oakland coffee shops, oakland cafes
Ah, Boot & Shoe Service. Can I just say that I have a big crush on Charlie Hallowell and his incredible pizzas? Yes, he’s married with child, and yes, I’m in a relationship too, but those fantastically thin crusts! To die for. Everything is amazing. A much smaller menu than his original Pizzaiolo, but that’s part of the charm.

Charlie Hallowell restaurants
Smitty’s. A dive bar. Pool table. Shuffleboard. Juke Box. Cheap beer. What more do you need to know?

oakland bars, grand avenue bars, dive bars oakland
Walden Pond Books – a great independent bookstore. See my post from last year: Walden Pond Books – Oakland’s Oldest Bookstore including their Declaration of Independents, and my interview with Paul Curatolo, now manager for over 35 years!

independent bookstores, oakland independent bookstores

Bicycle Coffee Co. These guys set up at the Saturday Farmers Market. I haven’t had their coffee yet (organic, fair trade, shade grown, hand-picked, and locally roasted in small batches), but I dig their carts, and was captivated by their groovy logo.

More Reading: Q&A with Bicycle Coffee Co.’s Brad Butler and Brandon McKee by Alex Hochman (sfweekly)

pedal power, coffee cart, oakland coffee carts

And last, but certainly not least, the wonderful Grand Lake Theater. It’s one of my favorite things about our city and I wrote all about it awhile back in Grand Lake Movie Magic… Post includes the top 7 reasons this is, hands down, the best movie theater in the East Bay, the history of the theater, and a cool video about the mechanics behind their amazing lighted sign. Check it out!

independent movie theaters, oakland grand lake, old movie houses

I ♥ Temescal Tool Lending Library – please help save…

So everyone is talking about the potential library closures… you can read all about it

And lots of great points are being made… about the need for these neighborhood resources, providing accessibility to books and the internet for all residents regardless of income, providing social gathering spots and places of refuge from the neighborhood violence in some parts of Oakland, providing a suite of services and resources that once were offered by public schools but now have been cut from there as well.  The list goes on and on, and these are all incredibly important points.

But what I don’t hear anyone talking about is the Temescal TOOL Lending Library.

I have to admit that this is my most frequently visited branch/service of the entire Oakland Public Library system.  They know me by name, and I know most of theirs as I see them nearly weekly.

I’ve always liked fixing/building/making things. I was a born DIY’er before the term DIY even existed. You can see this was either instilled early (by my grandfather – pipe in mouth), or perhaps just came naturally, by this photo of my first home building project (I think I was 6).

projects with grandpa, early DIY training

For those who don’t know, and I’m always amazed when I meet folks who don’t, this is an incredible resource exclusively dedicated to Oakland residents. Modeled after the tool lending library in Berkeley, they house thousands of tools that can be “rented” FREE of charge for short periods of time. Everything you need to tend to your home and garden (carpentry & woodworking, concrete & masonry, electrical, floor & wall, garden & digging, ladders/dollies/handtrucks/wheelbarrows, mechanical & power, plumbing, etc.) plus books and how-to videos.

I think I’ve checked out tools in nearly every one of those categories from the early days in 2000 (this was when renovating my loft in West Oakland, photo left) to more recent projects on the home here in Dimond (photo right).

bathroom tiling project, kitchen painting project

This arm of the Temescal Branch library was launched in January of 2000 (thanks to seed money from a Community Development Block Grant).  It was an outgrowth of a small “Home Resources Collection” established at this branch after the Oakland Hills Firestorm of 1991 to help residents with rebuilding and repairs following the disaster.

And it just makes sense.  In a dense urban environment where homes are frequently smallish apartments or “cottage” houses (read small!), who’s got the space to store all the things you need to care for your home? And more importantly, who wants to shell out the cash (tools are expensive!) for something you may use once or twice a year??

I LOVE the Temescal Tool Lending Library!  Please help save it.

According to the budget proposals currently being considered, the following library branches and resources would be slated for closure:

Asian, Brookfield, Cesar Chavez, Eastmont, Elmhurst, Golden Gate, Lakeview, Martin Luther King, Melrose, Montclair, Piedmont, Temescal, West Oakland, AAMLO, and the Tool Lending Library.

Is this not crazy?!? Especially after residents voted in 2003 for continued support of our libraries (Measure Q).

Here are five things you can do to help (from Save Oakland Libraries):

  1. Tell your friends and neighbors about the devastating funding cuts to libraries – Ask 10 of your friends to call or write the Mayor and City Council. Like the Save Oakland Library page on Facebook.
  2. Share your library experiences with city officials – Make sure that Oakland’s mayor, city manager, and city council know what libraries mean to you and your community.
  3. Attend Oakland City Council meetings – We need a big turnout. Bring signs supporting libraries. Bring children who love libraries. Request to speak. Speaker cards can be requested online one week in advance at the Office of the City Clerk page.  Next meetings 6/7 and 6/21 at 5:30pm
  4. Organize – Gather petition signatures and distribute fliers – These activities must happen outside the library locations–near branches or at community events. Fill our volunteer form and help save your library. Check our volunteer page for an activity near you. Download instructions on how to petition (PDF). Download the petition (PDF).
  5. Contact newspapers, radio stations, TV stations and local blogs – Call the media and ask if they are covering the proposed Oakland library closings. When you read related news coverage, write a letter to the editor with thanks and a message about why Oakland’s public libraries are needed

Diesel Bookstore ~ based on the concept of community

Next up… Diesel Bookstore on College Avenue in Rockridge.

oakland diesel books, independent bookstores oakland

I guess I should start by saying that I am somewhat biased against Rockridge… maybe it’s the demographics (one of our more homogenous pockets of Oakland) or perhaps it’s the price point (geared towards those oh-so-affluent demographics), maybe it’s the tricky parking or navigating the urban iditarod of strollers, or perhaps I’m just a bit crazy…

Whatever the case, I gleefully put up with it all to visit this wonderful bookstore (which, along with other additions like groovy vintage clothing shops, makes College Ave. actually cooler than I think it is).

Diesel is different from nearly all of the other bookstores I’m featuring in this indie series, in that they almost exclusively sell new books.  This wasn’t always the case, but when the store was remodeled a couple years ago a business decision was made to feature new materials more prominently because they seemed to sell faster than used.  There are still a handful of used books on the shelves, but for the most part, the store’s 60,000+ volumes are brand spankin’ new.

That being said, this is not the store you visit when you’re looking for cheap $1 books.  You come to Diesel for other reasons, and there are quite a few… For one thing, their space is gorgeous, befitting their slot in stylish upscale Rockridge.  The classic brick facade dresses a clean, spacious interior with smooth stained concrete floors, high ceilings, skylights running the length of the building that fill the space with natural light, and of course, their slick, well-designed, and creatively adorned book displays.  It’s simply a pleasure to be in the store.

rockridge books, east bay independent bookstores, author events oakland

Second, they’re known for their “stunning” events.  In the month of June alone, they’re hosting seven events, nearly two per week, and many feature quite renowned and/or local authors.  The next event is tomorrow night (Thursday June 3rd at 7pm) with local cartoonist & author Daniel Clowes, who’ll be discussing his latest graphic novel Wilson. Check out this recent article discussing Clowes and character Wilson… Cartoonist Daniel Clowes celebrates Oakland with “Wilson” (By Jessica Yadegaran for Contra Costa Times).  A brief excerpt:

“Lonely and self-loathing, Wilson… hangs around the coffee shops on Oakland’s Grand Avenue, verbally sucker punching strangers with whom he instigates one-sided conversations. He is rude, neurotic and opinionated.”

Sounds fun, right?! Right.

Being one of the few bookstores left in Oakland focused exclusively on selling new books, Diesel likely has more power to command attention from such noteworthy authors (and publishers).

events at Diesel Bookstore oakland

But when I spoke with the general manager Jon Stich and asked him how Diesel distinguishes itself from other local independent booksellers, his answer was simple.  The Staff Picks.  And this is probably the most important reason why folks come to Diesel.  Curated by a staff of avid book-lovers, all specialists in particular genres (children’s, poetry, metaphysics, etc.), the shelves are full of staff recom- mendations, neatly annotated with short descriptive reviews, many even quaintly handwritten.

diesel books, diesel bookstore oakland, staff picks

I found two of my recent favorite books (The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga and Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Juno Díaz, both of which I devoured) written up by Stich himself.  I have a pretty good idea then, that I’ll like his other recommendations.  As one of their fans on Yelp explains, it’s customer service oriented around the “concept of community,” where books loved by employees and customers are shared, producing a bestsellers list that is “way more colorful than the list the New York Times has been paid to review.”

And colorful it is… the store hosts, not only uniquely interesting book picks, but features them in artistic ways.  Playful collaged signs handmade by employees and interesting arrangements of books based on color rather than theme or author, all add to the cool-factor.

diesel books oakland, oakland independent bookstores

rockridge bookstores, oakland independent bookstores

diesel books oakland, diesel books rockridge

I guess the last thing I’ll say, is probably more than any of the other bookstores I’ve written about, Diesel seems to have embraced current technology most wholeheartedly.  Stich readily admits that Amazon has hurt them as much as anyone, but Diesel’s been able to use the internet to their advantage as well.  Their website is extensive with archived online monthly newsletters, a video channel for video book projects (including reviews), up-to-date event info, staff recommendations and more… they’ve got so many little social networking widgets on their site I don’t even know what some of them are!  And of course, you can buy books directly through the website too, including e-books for the iPad.

Diesel is your modern independent local bookstore. Check them out next time you’re on College Avenue and support your local independent booksellers!

college avenue bookstores

PS – they have a nice kid’s section too (for all those Rockridge stroller pushers!)

children's books oakland, children's books rockridge

The Bookmark Bookstore ~ supporting our libraries!

Next up in our installment of independent bookstores in Oakland is The Bookmark Bookstore. This store is what my friend, who is also a bookseller, refers to as “The Little Engine that Could.”  Did you have that book when you were a kid?  I did, and the story fits…

FOPL, friends of oakland public library

These guys are unique from all of the other booksellers I’m highlighting in that they:

  • are the only non-profit
  • are staffed exclusively by volunteers
  • sell only donated books
  • donate all proceeds to benefit our Oakland Public Library System

historic old oakland, dunns building oakland

It’s an unusual arrangement, but it seems to work, as the store generates approximately $100,000 per year for our libraries.  And given the current budget crisis, that’s not chump change.

Here’s how it works…  The store is run by a non-profit organization called Friends of the Oakland Public Library (FOPL).  Their mission:  “to advance the role of the Oakland Public Library as a vital community resource and as an institution critical to the culture, education, and welfare of our diverse community.”  They raise funds through membership dues (more on this below), special events, and the sale of books at Bookmark.

Proceeds go back into the library system for things like children’s reading programs, new library branches and upgrades to existing branches, scholarships, materials & special equipment, and more.

downtown oakland bookstore, independent oakland bookstore

The Bookmark Bookstore has been at its current location, 721 Washington Street in the heart of historic Old Oakland, since 1994.  Prior to that they were just down the street near Rattos, and at that time, every book in the store was priced at just $1.  They’ve raised their rates a bit since then, but still offer the best deals in town for quality specialized books.

They’re able to do this because of their limited operating expenses… as mentioned previously, all books are donated – mostly by the general public, but also by other bookstores – and you’d be surprised at the volume of books this little store is handling.  Nearly 10,000 volumes are donated each month, and about that same number are sold.  The idea is to keep the inventory moving, so every time you come, there’s a fresh stock of interesting books to explore.

FOPL, independent oakland bookstore, oakland book donations

Also, excluding the general manager Bob Frey who is a paid employee of FOPL, all staff are volunteers who donate just a few hours per week.  There’s a small army of them, currently around 50, who come from all walks of life:  retirees, college students, foreign students wanting to brush up their English skills, those in between employment opportunities, etc.  I asked one volunteer why she offers her free time to Bookmark and she said it’s a great way to give back to the community.  It’s a great way to be out and about, mingling among those who have a real love for books & literature. Plus volunteers get a 50% discount on all books (priced low to begin with), and there’s a fabulous holiday brunch each year, I’m told.

friends of oakland public library, non-profit bookstore oakland

There are other ways to support Bookmark, if you don’t have the hours to spare each week.  Of course you can donate your books.  Obviously rare or signed books are best.  One book alone recently raised $1750 for the library… a limited edition signed copy of The Fairy Caravan by Beatrix Potter.  Nice!  Other desirables are new books, hardcovers, collectibles, uncommon books, CDs, and DVDs.  What are not well suited for donation are mass market paperbacks, textbooks & computer books older than 2004, encyclopedia sets, mass circulation magazines, or any books that are in poor condition (soiled, torn, highlighted, etc.)  Books can be donated anytime during open hours, but call ahead if you’re bringing more than 4 boxes (510-444-0473).

old oakland bookstore, downtown oakland bookstore

Or wait… say you’ve got no books to give.  Well then, how ’bout a few greenbacks to spare?  You can become a member of the Friends of the Oakland Public Library for as little as $25 a year ($15 for Seniors & Students).  Not only will you be supporting this wonderful little institution, but you’ll get a 20% discount off all purchases at Bookmark. You’ll also be first in line for their bi-annual sales where every book in the store is 30% off. Folks line up for these events and the first day of each is always reserved for members only.

For just a bit more ($50/year), you can become a “Book Friend” member, which entitles you to the same benefits above, but also discounts at all of these participating local bookstores:

  • Bibliomania, 1816 Telegraph
  • Book Zoo, 6395 Telegraph
  • Laurel Bookstore, 4100 MacArthur
  • Marcus Books, 3900 M.L.K. Jr. Way
  • Montclair Book Tree, 6123 La Salle
  • Pendragon, 5560 College
  • Spectator Books, 4163 Piedmont
  • Walden Pond Books, 3316 Grand

These stores, some of which I’ve already covered and some of which I’m planning to cover in the next week or so, are also supporting the library system through their participation in this program.  Yet another benefit of patronizing your local indie booksellers.

east bay independent bookstores, oakland independent bookstores

And lastly, of course, you can come shop in this wonderful store.  Despite the volume of books moving through their limited space, the store feels spacious and welcoming.  Housed in the historic Victorian Dunn’s Building, titles are displayed artfully, with plenty of places to sit and browse, and their prices simply can’t be beat.

Bookmark is a little known secret, but for those in the know, it’s a real treasure that’s visited often.  Please check them out, and support your local independent bookseller!

low-priced books oakland, cheap books oakland

Spectator Books ~ the perfect neighborhood bookstore

My catalog of independent bookstores in Oakland continues, and next stop is SpectatorAll aboard!

piedmont avenue bookstores, independent bookstores

Spectator Books is one of two bookstores on the lovely walkable retail stretch of Piedmont Avenue.  Folks love this little main street in Oakland… locals call it “The Avenue,” and as one writer notes… “There aren’t many streets where you can have your shoes “renewed” while you practice yoga, pick up organic produce, and flip through Japanese manga before lunching on anything from duck confit to fish tacos.” (Piedmont Ave… by Charity Ferreira)

The Avenue’s got it all… tons of restaurants, a grocery store, a post office, a library, shoe shops, clothing stores, card shops, toy shops, antiques, magazine stands, coffee & tea shops, hot tub rentals, day spas, movie rentals, a movie theater, and of course, bookstores.

Spectator Books is, according to one patron I spoke with, “the perfect size bookstore.” Not so big that you feel overwhelmed, but not so small that selection is severely limited or space is cramped.  To give you a sense of size, Book Zoo, which I featured yesterday, holds about 15,000 books in their store.  Spectator which is at least twice as big with a space that’s comprised of three rooms total (or about 2000 sq ft), holds somewhere around 75,000.

books at spectator books, piedmont avenue bookstore

So how do you fit 5 times as many books in a space just 2 or 3 times as big?  Well… you have to see for yourself, but it’s pretty impressive.  Every inch of wall space is used.  Once bookshelves are filled, new stacks and rows are placed on top.  Full to the ceiling?  No problem.  Start filling bins on the floor.  Or forget the bins… just stack books on the floor!  This store is chock full, and there’s a lot of fun stuff to look at.  And I specifically mean “look” at.

Spectator is run by Tim Hildebrand who has a background in Art & Photography, in addition to his MFA in creative writing.  One of the unique things about his store, which sells both new and used books, is the large collection of Art books.  In some ways this is a natural reflection of his love for visual arts, but in another sense, it’s downright strategic, focusing on books that are simply pleasurable to hold in one’s hands… gorgeous illustrations or large scale photography or beautiful bindings.  These are items that won’t translate well to Kindle’s and iPad’s, and Tim’s belief is that these new digital readers will affect sales of text-only books more dramatically.  Pretty smart, eh?

independent bookstores east bay

oakland independent bookstores

art books east bay, art books oakland, spectator books
While the store is predominantly filled with used books, there is a nice collection of current releases on the front table.  Tim says these are the types of books that have been hurt most by online sales to Amazon, with 50% of fiction today being bought online.  However, the goal is for Spectator to really be a “general bookstore“, so he stocks a small collection of current fiction.

He’s also formed a collaborative relationship with the movie theater across the street, not only stocking the titles that are playing across the street (ie – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which was a pretty great movie by the way (Swedish version)), but also donating copies for the theater’s weekly raffle.  It’s a win-win for both establishments, not to mention the local customer.  This is indicative of the real community spirit on Piedmont Ave.

It’s been a tough economy for small retailers (hell, for all retailers) during the last couple of years, and despite Piedmont Ave’s charm and walkability, it too has suffered, with numerous store closures and reportedly 18 empty storefronts at one point.

For this reason, it’s even more important that those who survive and thrive support each other, and you do get this feeling.  Tim speaks highly of Black Swan Books, also on The Avenue, not as a competitor, but as a collaborator in the effort to keep books alive. A smaller store with narrower selection, Black Swan features collectibles, old & out of print books, antiques (including old maps), and more cutting edge materials (like their occult section).  I hope to get to them in another post…

children's books east bay, children's used books oakland

Community Bookstore Oakland
Not only do most retailers know each other, but most know their customers by name.  During my 15 minute interview with Tim, at least 5 customers came through the door who all knew Tim by name, and he knew their’s as well.  You can’t get that kind of personalized service at Borders.  This is community.

A few other noteworthy points… Spectator buys books everyday from 11 – 5.  As with other used bookstores, they are pretty discriminating, but really do rely upon the local community for their stock.  Sections grow and diminish based upon customer preferences… current highlights are:  cookbooks, metaphysics/spirituality, black studies, mysteries, and as mentioned, their art books section. They also feature a large children’s section (a whole room!), used DVDs, a specialized book-buyer (from now defunct Cody’s) who can find whatever you’re looking for, even if you just have a portion of the title. He’s that good.

Please visit Spectator & Black Swan on your next trip to Piedmont Avenue, and… say it with me now… Support your local booksellers!

Have a great holiday weekend everyone.  And check back next week for more indie-bookstores, including some great events with local authors and more…

spectator books

Tim Hildebrand, Spectator Books