On heels of Books Inc. closure, Dog Eared to open in Castro

  • by Sari Staver
  • Wednesday March 23, 2016
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Less than a week after Books Inc. announced that its Castro location will shutter, longtime lesbian bookseller Kate Rosenberger is bringing her popular Dog Eared Books brand to the gayborhood in June.

Rosenberger, who's been in the book business in San Francisco for three decades, plans to sell a mix of used, new, and remaindered books at 489 Castro Street, currently the home of Citizen Clothing, which has a lease through April 30. The location was home to A Different Light Bookstore from 1986-2011.

For the past 20 years, Rosenberger has owned Dog Eared Books at 900 Valencia, where her oil and acrylic paintings are on display on the walls. Five years ago, she opened Alley Cat Books at 3036 24th Street. Rosenberger opened her first bookstore, Phoenix Books, in Noe Valley in 1985, which she sold two years ago.

Dog Eared Books in the Castro will be a general interest bookstore with "a lot of queer content" and a "very active calendar" of events, which could include readings, film screenings, and art shows, Rosenberger told the Bay Area Reporter in an interview in her bustling Valencia Street store. The store will be open seven days a week and a used book buyer will be there every day, she said.

"I'm absolutely thrilled" to be opening in the Castro, said Rosenberger. "The Castro needs and deserves a great bookstore and we are planning to bring it to the neighborhood."

On May 1, when Rosenberger gets the keys to the 1,400 square foot space, she and several staff members will begin renovation of the store, set to open a month later. She hopes to feature her trademark "free box" in front of the store, which is a "favorite feature" of many customers, she said.

"And definitely some very comfy chairs," she added. A back patio has "fantastic potential" to hold events, she said. A grand opening is set for June 20.

Joining Rosenberger on Castro Street will be two gay longtime employees, Alvin Orloff and Nolan Ventura. The business is recruiting three new employees, one of whom will work on Castro Street, Rosenberger said.

"We all love books and are real readers," she said. "I wouldn't want to do anything else."

Rosenberger, who said she's in her mid-50s, began her career selling books in the early 1980s, when she took a job at Half-Priced Books in Berkeley, which has since closed.

"I'd had a number of horrible jobs" before that, she explained, "but from the first day, I knew I loved working in a bookstore."

While competition from online sellers prompted many bookstores to close over the years, Rosenberger has managed to maintain profitability, she said. Although both used and new books are available at lower prices online, "people shop here for the personal service," she said.

"Most of my employees have been here for many, many years. We'd like to think that we know our customers really well and have been successful at stocking titles we think they will like. I feel I have a responsibility to provide really good books," said Rosenberger.

Many of the details about the store "will be decided when we find out what our customers want," said Rosenberger. For example, she said, the store had not planned to have a children's book section because there was one less than a mile away at Books Inc. But now that Books Inc. is closing in June that decision will be revisited, she said.


Chance encounter

The move to the Castro came about by chance, Rosenberger said. With no plans to open another location, a commercial real estate agent suggested Rosenberger check out another empty storefront, which turned out to be too expensive. While she was in the neighborhood, she noticed the "for lease" sign in the window at 498 Castro.

From her first conversation with Realtor David Blatteis, "I had a feeling this was going to work," Rosenberger said.

Blatteis told the B.A.R. that at least six other tenants were very interested in renting the space, "but when the owners spoke to Kate, they knew who they wanted in the space," he said.

Rosenberger said the thought of moving to the Castro "was almost too good to be true."

"We asked ourselves, 'What could go wrong?' and 'Are there any red flags?' but we couldn't come up with anything," she said. "The landlord did everything possible" to make the move work.

Rosenberger declined to specify the rent she'll be paying, other than to say it was "at market."

Despite her optimistic outlook for locally owned independent bookstores, Rosenberger said she is "well aware" of the "gigantic" rent increases that can cause a business owner to close. Several years ago, Rosenberger's Valencia shop got a 50 percent rent increase, she said, "but we've managed to stay afloat."

Looking ahead, she said, "if another such increase were to come, at least now I feel safe because now I have a location in the Castro."


History of site

Castro Street hasn't had a bookstore of any type in the last five years, said Gerard Koskovich, a local queer historian. On Koskovich's Facebook page, he pointed out that at one time, there were four: A Different Light, The Love That Dared, Crown Books, and Books Etc. Another gay bookstore, Walt Whitman, was on Market Street between Castro and Noe from 1982-1987. A gay-friendly bookstore, Paperback Traffic, was at 558 Castro from 1977-78, when it moved to Polk Street, until it closed in the 1990s.

A Different Light was once a "grand institution," Koskovich wrote on Facebook. Throughout the 1980s and into the late-1990s the store was a "vibrant cultural center," with frequent in-store events and exhibitions, he said. It also served as a meeting location, mail drop and message center for a number of ad-hoc radical queer groups, Koskovich wrote.

But beginning around 2000, when the store was sold to new owners, came a "long, sad decline" when stock "shifted increasingly toward remainders and sidelines �" notably rainbow-pride trinkets of all sorts �" and toward porn DVDs," he wrote.