Monday : Noon - 8 PM
Tuesday : Noon - 8 PM
Wednesday : Noon - 8 PM
Thursday : Noon - 8 PM
Friday : Noon - 8 PM
Saturday : Noon - 8 PM
Sunday: Noon - 8 PM
As a result of the ideas suggested at the meeting we hosted last
Thursday, and the emails that have been pouring in, the staff and I have
come up with a plan to keep Borderlands open. Below you'll find
the details of it and following that, you'll find my reasoning behind it
and some Q&A. If it is to succeed, we will need your support
-- not just right now, but every year moving forwards. So, if you
want Borderlands to continue, it is in your hands.
Prior to the events of the last two weeks, I would never have imagined
that something like what follows would ever be possible. The
outpouring of affection and emotion that started the moment we announced
that we were closing has changed forever the way the I and the rest of
the staff see Borderlands. This place has always meant the world
to us -- that's why we work here -- but we never imagined that it meant
so much to so many people. Win or lose, open or close, we are all
more grateful that we can express for your kind words, sincere
compliments, and the belief that what we do matters.
The Short Version
Starting immediately we will be offering paid sponsorships of the
store. Each sponsorship will cost $100 for the year and will need
to be renewed every year. If we get 300 sponsors before March
31st, we will stay open for the remainder of 2015.
Our goal is to gather enough paid sponsors to cover the projected
short-fall in income that will be the result of the minimum wage
increase in San Francisco. At the beginning of next year we will
again solicit sponsors. If next year we again reach our goal by
March 31st, we will remain open through 2016. This process will
continue each year until we close, either because of a lack of
sponsorship or for other reasons.
We are still considering benefits we can offer our sponsors but, at this point, a preliminary list is:
- Reserved seating at author events
- The ability to rent the cafe and / or bookstore outside of normal
operating hours for private events at our cost (which is roughly $25 to
$100 per hour)
- Invitations to a quarterly gathering at the cafe where you can
socialize with other sponsors, members of Borderlands' staff and
occasional special guests
- Access to preview sales of rare and collectable books whenever we make a large acquisition
- The opportunity to purchase occasional items produced by us for
sponsors and not offered to the general public (such as limited Ripley
prints, chapbooks, and so forth)
- A selection of unique apparel and accessories showing your status as a sponsor and not available to the general public
- Invitations to sponsor-only events, like small gatherings with authors, exclusive writing workshops, and more
A sponsorship will cost $100 for this year. That price may
increase or decrease in subsequent years, depending on our
finances. The minimum number of sponsors each year will be 300,
but we will accept any number of people who would like to
participate. Each participant will be given a sponsor number,
based on the exact time and date that they first started sponsoring
Though we considered partnering with an outside company to collect the
payments, we concluded that we're sort of old-fashioned and value our
direct connection with our customers. So, payments may be made in
person at the store, by phone with a credit card or by mail via check
(note, for check payments, sponsorship start date and time will be 12:01
A.M. on the day the envelope was postmarked).
To pay in person, just come into the store anytime between noon and
eight and inquire at the counter. To pay by credit card, please
call 415 824-8203 or toll-free at 888 893-4008 during the same hours
(please be patient if you get a busy signal as we only have two phone
lines). To pay by check, please send the check to - Borderlands
Books, Sponsorships, 866 Valencia St. SF CA 94110 and make
sure to include your phone number, email address, and mailing address.
As I've said elsewhere, I had been opposed to the idea of sponsorships
or selling memberships for two reasons. First, I didn't think that
it was right for a for-profit business to ask for a hand-out to
continue operating. Second, based on what I have seen happen to
other bookstores, I didn't believe that the sort of support we needed
was something that would be sustainable.
However, comments that were made at our public meeting last Thursday
made me question my second assumption. There were so many people
who were so committed to the store, and so willing to give us their
money, just so we would continue to exist, that I started to wonder if
there might be enough support for the long haul. One suggestion
that stuck with me in particular came from someone I'm going to refer to
as "Mr. Barnum" (I know his name but I don't want to spread it all over
the internet without his permission). His suggestion was that we
could sell a membership card that gave the holder the right to pay 10%
over cover price for their purchase. Not only did those attending
the meeting think that was an amusing and clever idea, but two customers
approached me later that weekend and seriously affirmed their support
The other thing that was made clear to me at the meeting was that people
really valued the social aspect of Borderlands, as well as valuing our
recommendations, curation, and suggestions. Of course, I value it
too, as do all our staff, but I didn't realize just how much it meant to
other people. At the meeting one person commented that they were
relatively new to San Francisco and that, during the course of the
meeting, they had met a couple of people with common interests.
They said that a place that would allow such connections was truly
important and valuable.
I spent the next few days thinking about all that. I still wasn't
convinced that there was enough support or, more accurately I thought
that, though there was enough support right now, I didn't believe that
the support would last. To allow Borderlands to continue, it's not
just a matter of one big burst of support and a pile of cash. Our
income from books will not be enough to keep us operating as the
minimum wage goes up. Without some other income, we will be
operating at a loss, possibly as soon as the middle of this year.
So, any support must be long-term and constant. Right now people
are emotionally involved and motivated to help but, three years from
now, that will have worn off.
But, I thought that there was enough interest that it would be worth
giving it a try. I had two remaining problems, however.
First, I needed to figure out how to make that support something other
than a hand-out from our customers. Second, I needed a way to
structure whatever we did so that I would clearly know if the support
didn't exist with enough warning that I could shut down the business in
an orderly and financially sound way. Unlike a simpler business, a
bookstore has a ton of money invested in inventory. If one is
going to close, something needs to happen to that inventory and there is
nothing that can be done quickly while still being financially wise.
As you've seen from the list of benefits above, once Jude and I and the
rest of the crew started thinking about what sort of things we could do
for our sponsors that wouldn't cost us money (since that would be
defeating the purpose of the sponsorship) we came up with a solid list
quite quickly. And, I'm sure that we'll come up with more stuff as
we go along (especially once we have sponsors and get their feedback on
what they would like). That solved the question of how to make
sponsorship something other than a hand-out.
The question that remained was how to structure it so that I would have
enough warning that the willingness to sponsor the shop was running
out. Several people that I talked to suggested charging a monthly
amount, but that's a problem since the income could vary widely from
month to month. But, once I considered it as a yearly fee and then
added the idea that there was a limited window each year for us to make
our goal, that fixed the problem and will allow us to predict a year in
advance what we will be doing.
After presenting the whole idea to all the staff, it was generally
agreed that it might be a workable, long-term solution to our problem
without compromising our values or our vision of what Borderlands was
Q: You've said that your shortfall only reaches $25,000 per year in 2018. Why are you asking for $30,000 now?
A: Two reasons. First, Borderlands has been operating
without any cash reserves since 2010. That is not a wise way to
run a business over the long term. So, the extra money we raise
now will create that reserve. Second, if people are not willing to
put up that amount this year, when emotions are high, they certainly
won't be willing to do it in three years when we'll really need
it. So, I'm testing the level of support now (and next year) to
see if it really is viable.
Q: If you don't reach 300 sponsors by March 31st, will you still close?
A: Yes. And, while we're waiting to see if enough people
will sponsor the store, we're still going to be moving forward with
closing (however, I will probably wait to sell any fixtures and
bookshelves until we see how it plays out).
Q: If I sponsor and you don't reach 300, will I get my money back?
A: You'll get most of the money back. Trying this is not
without costs. There are both simple cash expenses (specifically
credit card processing fees) and also less tangible costs like the time
on the part of the staff to collect information, answer questions, do
the paperwork and information processing, and so forth. Plus, I'm
going to wait to sell most of the fixtures until after we see what
happens. That will mean much more work for me after March 31st if
we do close and, probably, lower sale prices for the shelves if this
doesn't pan out.
So, if we don't reach 300 sponsors, we will be refunding $75 to each person who did sponsor.
Q: Can people buy sponsorships after March 31st?
A: Sponsorships will be available year round but the most important time to get them will be before March 31st each year.
Q: Are you guaranteeing that you'll stay open for the rest of 2015?
A: It's impossible to guarantee something like that. We
could have a huge 'quake or a fire. Jude and I could both get hit
by a bus (the store would continue to operate if it was just one of us
killed, but both? Probably not, although there are plans in
place.) However, barring surprises, we'll do our damnedest to stay
open. And the same goes for the following years.
Q: If you get enough sponsors, how long will it take to get the store "back to normal"?
A: Unless we take this chance to do some refurbishing of the
place, it will take about two to three weeks to get our stock back up to
"normal" levels. It will take a month or two to get our events
schedule back to normal, since we haven't scheduled anything beyond the
end of March. But, overall, it will be a very fast process.
I'd say that the place will look normal to the average customer within a
week or two after we change course.
Q: Have you considered a tiered structure of sponsors wherein higher fees give additional benefits?
A: Yes, and so far we've decided against it. We're a pretty
egalitarian sort of operation so I think that it's better to have a
single level of sponsorship and to treat all our sponsors the
same. Though I will say that the first 300 original sponsors will
be pretty special to us since they will truly be the people who saved
Q: Can I buy more than one sponsorship?
A: Each person can only hold one sponsorship, but you're welcome
to buy sponsorships for friends or family. Also, sponsors must be
natural persons -- businesses and organizations cannot be sponsors.
Q: Is this the only action you're planning on taking?
A: No. This change addresses the projected problem, but
there were several great ideas that were suggested that I'm going to
pursue. The most notable ones are: offering a subscription program
whereby we send subscribers one (or more) books per month; reaching out
to local companies to see if they would be interested in hosting
Google-style book talks; investigating the possibilities of starting a
non-profit organization to help support either Borderlands specifically
or San Francisco bookstores in general; and pursuing the possibility of
using the local political process to address some of the challenges
facing smaller, local retailers.
Q: What about the hooded sweatshirt that I just bought that says
"1997-2015"? If this works, that'll be wrong and inaccurate.
A: Very true. But what a cool souvenir of the time that
Borderlands _almost_ closed! If you don't want it, perhaps you
could sell in on Ebay at a profit. Hell, I might buy it from
you. But, if I were you, I'd hold onto it -- it may be much prized
and admired in a few years.
I'm sorry if the tone of this note seems dispassionate. Remember,
while I was completely willing to have my mind changed by the pubic
meeting, I really wasn't anticipating any workable solution to come
up. I apologize for the whiplash that you may be experiencing
right about now -- everyone at Borderlands is feeling it too. This
idea went from an idle conversation to a plan in the span of 72
hours. In fact, as I write this it is 4:36 P.M. and it will be
posted on our blog at six.
The rest of the staff and I are all kind of exhausted and a bit
overwhelmed from the last two weeks, and, while we're feeling quite
hopeful about this as a possible solution, we don't want to get our
hopes too high. I think the best term for how we're feeling is
"cautiously optimistic". So please forgive me if this note seems a
bit stilted. I truly hope that this works out but I'm afraid that
it won't. And, if I'm to be honest, I'm also a tiny bit afraid of
the work to come if this does succeed.
But, however this comes out, thank you for your support and your passion
for Borderlands over the last 18 years. We'd dearly love to keep
doing this and we'd love to have all of you along for the ride -- but if
it doesn't work, that changes nothing about the wonderful community
that we have all created around and within the store, and the amazing
experiences that have been the result.
In 18 years of business, Borderlands has faced a number of
challenges. The first and clearest was in 2000, when our landlord
increased our rent by 100% and we had to move to our current location on
Valencia Street. All of the subsequent ones have been less
clear-cut but more difficult. The steady movement towards online
shopping, mostly with Amazon, has taken a steady toll on bookstores
throughout the world and Borderlands was no exception. After that
and related to it, has been the shift towards ebooks and electronic
reading devices. And finally the Great Recession of 2009 hit us
very hard, especially since we had just opened a new aspect to the
business in the form of our cafe.
But, through all those challenges, we've managed to find a way forward
and 2014 was the best year we've ever had. The credit for that
achievement goes to the fine and extraordinary group of people who have
come together to work here. Their hard work, combined with the
flawless execution and attention to detail provided by Jude Feldman,
Borderlands' General Manager, is the reason we've succeeded for these
past 18 years.
Throughout the years we've managed to plan for the problems that we
could predict and, when we couldn't plan for them, we've just worked our
asses off to get through. Overall, Borderlands has managed to
defeat every problem that has come our way. At the beginning of
2014, the future of the business looked, if not rosy, at least stable
and very positive. We were not in debt, sales were meeting
expenses and even allowing a small profit, and, perhaps most
importantly, the staff and procedures at both the bookstore and the cafe
were well established and working smoothly.
So it fills us with sorrow and horror to say that we will be closing very soon.
In November, San Francisco voters overwhelmingly passed a measure that
will increase the minimum wage within the city to $15 per hour by
2018. Although all of us at Borderlands support the concept of a
living wage in principal and we believe that it's possible that the new
law will be good for San Francisco -- Borderlands Books as it exists is
not a financially viable business if subject to that minimum wage.
Consequently we will be closing our doors no later than March 31st.
Many businesses can make adjustments to allow for increased wages.
The cafe side of Borderlands, for example, should have no difficulty at
all. Viability is simply a matter of increasing prices.
And, since all the other cafes in the city will be under the same
pressure, all the prices will float upwards. But books are a
special case because the price is set by the publisher and printed on
the book. Furthermore, for years part of the challenge for
brick-and-mortar bookstores is that companies like Amazon.com have made
it difficult to get people to pay retail prices. So it is
inconceivable to adjust our prices upwards to cover increased wages.
The change in minimum wage will mean our payroll will increase roughly
39%. That increase will in turn bring up our total operating
expenses by 18%. To make up for that expense, we would need to
increase our sales by a minimum of 20%. We do not believe that is a
realistic possibility for a bookstore in San Francisco at this time.
The other obvious alternative to increasing sales would be to decrease
expenses. The only way to accomplish the amount of savings needed
would be to reduce our staff to: the current management (Alan Beatts and
Jude Feldman), and one other part-time employee. Alan would need
to take over most of Jude's administrative responsibilities and Jude
would work the counter five to six days per week. Taking all those
steps would allow management to increase their work hours by 50-75%
while continuing to make roughly the same modest amount that they make
now (by way of example, Alan's salary was $28,000 last year).
That's not an option for obvious reasons and for at least one less
obvious one -- at the planned minimum wage in 2018, either of them would
earn more than their current salary working only 40 hours per week at a
much less demanding job that paid minimum wage.
Although the major effects of the increasing minimum wage won't be felt
for a while, we've chosen to close now instead of waiting for two
reasons. First, the minimum wage has already increased from $10.74
per hour to $11.05 (as of January 1st) and it will increase again on
May 1st to $12.25. Continuing to pay the higher wage without any
corresponding increase in income will expend the store's cash
assets. In essence, the store will have less money (or inventory)
six months from now, so closing sooner rather than later makes better
business sense. But more importantly, keeping up our morale and
continuing to serve our customers while knowing that we are going to
close has been very painful for all of us over the past three
months. Continuing to do so for even longer would be
horrible. Far better to close at a time of our choosing, keep
everyone's sorrow to a minimum, and then get on with our lives.
Some of you may be wondering, what can I do to help? Honestly, the
best thing that you can do for us is -- come in and buy books!
We've got an awful lot of damn good ones and we'd love to see every
single one go to someone who appreciates it before we close. We're
also going to be selling all our shelves and other fixtures. It
would make us very happy to know that our hand-built shelves were going
to sit in the living room of someone who was a customer of ours and who
appreciates their history. And finally, if you're looking for a
way to remember Borderlands (and you already have enough shelves and
books -- crazy though that idea is) -- we're having hooded sweatshirts
made with our logo and "1997 - 2015" on them. Once we're closed,
there'll never be another place to get them again. We’ll have those in
by the middle of February.
But, more importantly than coming in and buying stuff, please come in
and say, "Hi". The best thing about this business has been our
customers and we're going to miss you all (well, most of you at least
<grin>). But please do be considerate of us; we all
understand that finding that we're closing may be sad and upsetting but
remember -- it's even harder for us. Borderlands was our livelihood, our
pride & joy, and, for many of us, it was a big part of what defined
us. Although we understand your feeling of loss, it is dwarfed by
what we are feeling. So come in, give us your best wishes, and try to
be cheerful. Everything changes and everything ends. We did a
hell of a job for a long time and now it's time for us to do something
Some of you reading this probably have questions popping into your minds
-- Is there a way to keep Borderlands open? What alternatives
have you considered? What about moving out of SF? What is
going to happen to the cafe? Is the business for sale? And
so on. Before asking us your questions, please wait for a
week. We'll be sending out and posting updates frequently at our blog
over the next week or so and those updates will probably answer most of
your questions. We will also be holding a public meeting in the
cafe at seven P. M. on Thursday, February 12th. We'll be on hand to
answer questions and moderate a discussion about alternatives to closing
the store. Although we do not believe that any viable alternative
exists, we also think that we have a very smart and imaginative group
of customers. It is not impossible that we've missed a potential
solution, and so we want an opportunity to hear your thoughts.
Thank you all for your support, business, and friendship over these last
18 years. This has been the best job that any of us has ever had
and we're very grateful to you for giving us the chance to do it.
If you would like to learn more about the store, please
read our Mission Statement here.
If you would like to search our inventory,
and/or order a book on-line, click here.
for full Events Listings.