Trump era is a new chapter for bookstore business – San Francisco Chronicle

Trump era is a new chapter for bookstore business – San Francisco Chronicle

It turns out President Trump is good for business — and not just those companies sending the Dow Jones into record-busting territory. He’s also been an unlikely boon for a liberal bookstore in one of the most liberal neighborhoods in one of the most liberal cities in the country.

Trump’s election was a gut punch to most of San Francisco, and nowhere more so than in the super-left Haight-Ashbury. In the precinct that includes the Booksmith on Haight Street, just 3 percent of voters picked Trump in November. He didn’t even finish second: Eighty-nine percent backed Hillary Clinton, and 5 percent picked Green Party candidate Jill Stein.

The Booksmith has always had a liberal bent, unsuccessfully advocating against the 2010 passage of a ban on sitting or lying on sidewalks, for example. But since Trump’s election, the store has decided to become an overtly political organization — and from its sales receipts, it appears the surrounding neighborhood is appreciative.

“We’re bringing the community out of depression and focusing on actions we can take,” said Christin Evans, who owns the Booksmith with her husband, Praveen Madan. “The idea is to turn to books to feel empowered, to feel like we can do this, we can resist.”

The window display at Booksmith in the Haight reflects the store’s and the community’s spirit of high-energy activism. Photo: Craig Lee, Special To The Chronicle

Photo: Craig Lee, Special To The Chronicle

The window display at Booksmith in the Haight reflects the store’s and the community’s spirit of high-energy activism.

The shop’s front windows are filled with books such as “Calling All Radicals” and “A Is for Activist” alongside protest signs. Titles like “How to Win at Feminism” are selling better than ever. The store created buzz by refusing to stock conservative provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos’ planned memoir, which has since been pulled by its publisher. It doesn’t ban books by Trump, but it currently has none in stock and has sold only two copies in the past several years, according to Evans.

The shop’s new monthly series, Booksmith Resists, kicks off Monday with a postcard-writing party to send notes to Trump — fueled by donated coffee from Ritual Roasters and beer from Lagunitas Brewing Co.

“Lagunitas is giving us a keg!” said the store’s manager, Amy Stephenson. “Everybody’s hungry for information and to figure out, ‘What do we do?’ We’re happy to provide a space where people can find those answers.”

And drink beer.

The shop’s resistance began in late January when Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway coined the now-famous phrase “alternative facts.”

An anonymous donor identified by Evans as a linguist and writer living in the Haight donated 50 copies of George Orwell’s “1984” for the store to give away on a first-come, first-served basis. The book, published in 1949, describes a dystopian future in which Big Brother uses video cameras to spy on citizens and jail them for “thought crimes.”

“She had been amazed at the spread of misinformation,” Evans said of the donor, who also gave free copies to Point Reyes Books in West Marin and Green Apple Books in San Francisco. “She said she had no intentions to proselytize, but she’s simply trying to spark critical thinking.”

The stack of free books sat next to a sign with a fist and the words, “Read up! Fight back!” The shop publicized the free books on its social media accounts, and the copies were gone within a day or two.

More anonymous donors stepped forward offering free copies of the books they considered the most relevant to weathering the Trump administration. Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale.” Erik Larson’s “In the Garden of Beasts.” James Baldwin’s “Notes From a Native Son.”

“It’s this quiet form of resistance that’s not overly preachy,” Stephenson said of the donations. “It’s just, ‘Here are these copies, this is good information for you, go ahead and read it.’”

The shop’s political bent has been appreciated by its staff, too. Colter Ruland hails from Arizona and said his conservative, evangelical family all voted for Trump. The 26-year-old and his relatives had some blowups before the election and now stick mostly to small talk, “walking on glass” so as not to aggravate each other, Ruland said.

“Working at the store has been really helpful,” he said. “It feels like a second home — I can come here and vent when I have to, talk about things and get fresh insight.”

Jessalyn Ragus, a 23-year-old from Le Grand (Merced County), left her family’s farmhouse to move to San Francisco six years ago. The reason? “Just to get out of the town,” she said.

She designed the resistance-themed store windows and publishes a zine called “Shock Treatment” about women’s issues that is sold in the store. She said she loves that being part of the resistance isn’t restricted to hours outside of work.

Evans, the owner, noted that it was just a few years ago that bookstores were being written off as dead in the era of online sales and e-books. So far this year, she says, sales are incredibly strong.

So if she could go back in time and reverse the election — even if it meant no Trump-fueled economic boost — would she?

Evans laughed. “Absolutely!” she said.

The Booksmith isn’t the only neighborhood small business seeing an uptick in sales because of Trump. Little Bee Baking, an organic bakery in Bernal Heights, has also had strong sales since November.

Why? “Emotional eating,” said Erin Singer, a 34-year-old baker.

On election day, the bakery gave away sugar cookies to anybody who voted. Those shocked by the election results that night found solace in baked goods.

And as the national news gets weirder, the self-indulging is intensifying.

“This woman came in just yesterday,” Singer said. “She said, ‘The world is going to crap! I need a hazelnut chocolate chip cookie.’”

I know the feeling.

San Francisco Chronicle columnist Heather Knight appears Tuesdays and Fridays. Email:” style=”text-decoration: underline; color: rgb(65, 110, 210); max-width: 100%;”> Twitter: @hknightsf

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