Adobe Books needs everybody's support!

May 28th, 2010

Adobe Books and Backroom Gallery

3166 16th Street, San Francisco, California

Adobe Books: Not Long for this World?

By Reyhan Harmanci on May 26, 2010 – 12:30 a.m. PDT

If you’ve walked by the Mission District’s Adobe Books in the past week, you might have seen a sign in the window: “Everything Must Go.” It’s not an uncommon sight in independent book stores these days — just up the street, Abandoned Planet recently closed up shop, adding to a list of Bay Area spots that includes (RIP) A Clean Well-Lighted Place for Books, Stacey’s, Cody’s main Berkeley location, and more. While the sign is part of Nicolas Torres’ installation “Neighborhood Watch,” currently on display at the bookstore, it is not only an artistic statement.

“What is that sign,” Adobe owner Andrew McKinley sighed. “I guess it’s a cry for help.”

McKinley says that his store is in very real danger of going out of business. With a curated backroom art space, Adobe has been a crucial community meeting spot for years, showing works by Mission School icons like Chris Johanson; booking the then-unknown Joanna Newsom; and giving part-time employment to writers like Evan Rehill and Instant City literary magazine founder Gravity Goldberg. It got national attention in 2004 when SF artist Chris Cobb reorganized the store’s 20,000+ inventory by color.

The future of book publishing in general has been the cause of much alarm, and for McKinley, the writing is on the wall: change or die. “It’s getting slightly worse every year,” McKinley said, speaking from the store, where he frequently paused the conversation to help some visiting Danes. He admitted that he doesn’t tend to keep the best accounting — no surprise to anyone who’s enjoyed a stroll through the crowded stacks — but it’s been a good decade since the store was having “good days” with any regularity. Lately, he’s taken more drastic steps to reduce costs, like cutting staff pay.

The bottom line? Adobe Books, as it exists now, will not exist in a year or so. “Society is changing. There is less book consumption,” McKinley said, noting that he also has to compete with online sellers who can afford to part with books for pennies. Over the summer, McKinley will be selling off a substantial chunk of the inventory, hoping that a fresher stock will help sales. He is also entertaining notions of reinvention.

“I guess I could sell the store. I could close it down. I could reinvent it and hopefully keep it going with a new life,” McKinley said. He didn’t sound exactly thrilled at the prospect, nor did he want to turn on the fire hose of community support to save what is a dying business proposition. Still, consider the gauntlet thrown down. You can find McKinley, usually with a camera around his neck, behind the register of the store on most days.

Buy a goddamned book already.