Adobe Books Hopes to Avoid Shuttering by Becoming a Co-Op

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By Lydia Laurenson

"There are a lot of journalists here tonight," Andrew McKinley, owner of Adobe Books, said as he poured me some wine. Indeed, I spotted no fewer than three people seeking commentary while taking handwritten notes, and one with a microphone. It made sense: a lot of San Franciscans thought the well-loved bookstore was closing due to skyrocketing rent. Wednesday night was rumored to be a "farewell reading" featuring three of the city's most remarkable writers.

See also: Bookstore Hero Wanted: Two San Francisco Stores in Trouble

As it happened, though, the night was less farewell than publicity event for the cooperative that hopes to run Adobe in the future. They're putting together various fundraising efforts, including the inevitable crowdfunding campaign (they'll use Indiegogo, and they estimate that the campaign will go live within a month). Adobe is 25 years old and has been "the living room of the Mission," according to Howard Gutstadt, a devoted customer who helped establish the new cooperative. He also described the store as an "incubator for young artists" and a "cross-section of the Mission's evolution."

Wednesday's readers began with Stephen Elliott, a writer, director, and creator of literary website The Rumpus. Elliott noted that he doesn't usually do this kind of event but "couldn't turn down" Adobe. "I've dated three women who worked here," he reminisced, before launching into a piece he wrote about the shop itself. "This is old, and I disavow some of the things I say, but I'll read it anyway," he said, and peppered the reading with self-conscious asides like "You can tell that detail is real because it's so fucking random."

Michelle Tea, who founded the nonprofit RADAR Productions, was next. She read from the draft of a new fiction book set in '90s San Francisco, and my favorite sentence was about a young poet: "Ziggy's work was thick with cunts and fucks and the defamation of the Christian god, and San Francisco had given her a grant."

Last but certainly not least came Rebecca Solnit, whose 2008 article "Men Explain Things to Me" has been e-mailed to me more than anything else on the Internet. Solnit apparently knows one of Elliott's three Adobe girlfriends ("the woman he read about is a good friend of mine"). Like Tea, she read from a book about San Francisco; it begins with an image that imagines the city in the form of a phrenology diagram. And she gave voice to what many in the room were thinking: the collective unease about San Francisco becoming "a suburb of Silicon Valley" and succumbing to "the tyranny of the quantifiable."

"There's a lot of shifting potential," Howard Gutstadt told me afterward, as we discussed the cooperative and Adobe's future. Like most surviving used bookstores, Adobe plans to diversify its revenue stream with workshops, perhaps including a nonprofit. In terms of books, the store will attempt "creative curation focused on sharp, intelligent writing about current urban, anthropological, technical society" -- a description whose understanding of hipster preferences made me laugh. But the store is clearly far more than the sum of its books. "The two critical foundations," Gutstadt said, "are community engagement and a creative spin on it."

To get involved, you can check out Adobe's Facebook page, or e-mail central cooperative member Jeff Ray: rayinsf@gmail.com. You could even show up in person (gasp!) at the next cooperative meeting, which will take place at 7.30 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 22.

Lydia Laurenson is an arts and culture writer who enjoys nothing more than Twitter.

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