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Diesel Bookstore ~ based on the concept of community

Next up… Diesel Bookstore on College Avenue in Rockridge.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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!

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

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