Gay manager buys Castro's Dog Eared Books

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Tuesday August 24, 2021
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Alvin Orloff points to the new name he will christen Dog Eared Books in the Castro next month. Photo: Courtesy Alvin Orloff
Alvin Orloff points to the new name he will christen Dog Eared Books in the Castro next month. Photo: Courtesy Alvin Orloff

A longtime manager at Dog Eared Books has bought the locally owned bookstore's second location in San Francisco's LGBTQ Castro district. It will be rechristened as Fabulosa Books next month.

Alvin Orloff, 59, a gay man who has worked for the bookseller for 21 years, is buying the store location from Dog Eared Books' queer owner Kate Rosenberger Razo, who will continue to operate the store's first location on Valencia Street. She opened the Castro store in the summer of 2016, taking over a vacated clothing store space.

The storefront at 489 Castro Street had previously been the home of beloved LGBTQ-focused A Different Light Bookstore from 1986-2011. After a slight remodel of the space, Orloff will officially open Fabulosa Books September 15 on his 60th birthday.

"I figured 60 is a good age to start assuming adult responsibility," Orloff joked in a phone interview with the Bay Area Reporter.

At a time when many booksellers are struggling — two other Castro district bookstores Aardvark Books on Church Street and Books Inc. on Market Street closed their doors — Orloff continues to believe in the necessity of a neighborhood bookstore.

"A Castro Street without a bookstore is like a day without sunshine," said Orloff. "I can't even imagine how horrible it would be for Castro Street not to have a bookstore. I love bookstores; I want there to be more of them. It is a calling, say."

He has no plans to retire anytime soon, said Orloff, who began discussing purchasing the store from Razo in 2019 prior to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. But the health crisis, which caused the bookstore to close its doors for four months last year and put its future in doubt, postponed the sale talks until recently.

"Because of my misspent youth, I am not in a position to retire anytime soon," said Orloff. "For me personally, I plan to keep working at least another 10 years. This is not the end of my career or my swan song yet."

Razo, 60, who close to four years ago married a man she met from Mexico, told the B.A.R. that it is "amazing" to have reached a deal for Orloff to take over the store. As they live near each other, she expects to see him often and collaborate with him going forward.

"That was the whole idea, to get it into his hands," said Razo, an artist who also owns Alley Cat Books/Gallería on 24th Street in the city's Mission district. "I feel like he paid his dues and he is the right person to have the store. I am thrilled it has worked out."

The sales price for the transaction has yet to be determined, as Orloff is currently doing an inventory check of the Castro bookstore's stock, which he will be buying from Razo in addition to the store's fixtures. He estimated the price would be between $50,000 and $100,000.

He has a three-year lease with his landlord at a reasonable rate, said Orloff, with an option to renew it for another five years in June 2024. He said that Razo has agreed to guarantee the lease during its first year.

"The landlord has been very helpful and understanding," said Orloff.

He choose Fabulosa as it was a gay slang word from the mid-20th century British idiom known as Polari, which gay men used as a secret language to skirt anti-homosexual laws.

"It is pretty obscure, but people into books like obscure things," said Orloff. "The word is pretty obviously fabulous but a little more fabulous than the word fabulous."

The bookstore already feels "marvelous" under Orloff's management, said Razo.

"He is doing such a beautiful job with that store. It is taking on more and more of his personality," she said. "I am thrilled for him and his neighbors. I am thrilled for the whole LGBTQIA+ community locally, nationally and internationally."

As the B.A.R.'s Business Briefing column reported in January, Dog Eared Books was facing an uncertain future and had launched a GoFundMe campaign with a goal of raising $50,000 to help it survive. It raised just over $27,000, covering its back rent when it was closed to shoppers, and also secured federal loans to help keep it open.

With the Castro location's lease coming up for renewal in May, Orloff had told the B.A.R. that the bookstore was exploring its options, from extending its lease to a possible sale to new owners.

"It is probably going to change hands in some form or fashion; we don't know how," he had predicted.

With the support of donors, local shoppers, and the staff's hard work, the store was able to survive and has begun to see tourists come back, noted Orloff in a news release announcing his purchase of the business.

"Nothing is more cheering than to see visitors from less tolerant parts of the globe exclaim with wonder at the sight of our gigantic wall of LGBTQ+ books," he stated. "We're very mindful of the fact we're occupying the same space as A Different Light Books, which served queer San Francisco during the difficult years of the 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s."

As the bookstore sells new, used, and remaindered books along with stickers, buttons, posters, cards, notebooks, and magazines, as well as buys used books over the counter, Orloff was asked by the B.A.R. if he considers it to be a LGBTQ bookstore.

"Let's just say the bookstore said, 'I identify as nonbinary and pansexual.' We welcome everybody and are looking forward to seeing all your beautiful faces," said Orloff.

For now masks are required to be worn by all shoppers, who are also asked to remain six feet apart from each other. Because of the ongoing pandemic, in-store events are still a ways off from returning.

And Orloff has "postponed indefinitely" hosting a grand opening celebration for Fabulosa Books.

"At some point we will definitely have that party," he said.

The bookstore will be open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays, and from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sundays and Mondays.

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