If you walk around Hayes Valley on any given day, you’ll stumble upon a clothing boutique with prices so high you wonder if it’s a joke clothing store, built just for laughs. And then you’ll run into another clothing boutique, and then another. But in the midst of the high end fashion, between the funky art galleries, and within the smell of pricey coffee beans, you’ll find a bookstore. It’s called Bibliohead
, and the store’s owner, Melissa Richmond, is Madam Head Bibliohead. That means books and literature are always on her mind– mostly those old, rare, funky, and altogether lovable books she’s shelved herself. She’s got fiction, children’s books, occult, and even music scores for the concert-goers nearby.
But these days, Richmond’s brain is filled with thoughts beyond the power of the printed word. She thinks about earthquakes. She thinks about the fact that the city’s demand that her building be retrofitted will leave Bibliohead without a home for four months, and how once she comes back, her rent will double. Her store has had a 7% increase in sales each year, yet that might not be enough.
“I feel betrayed by the fact that I run a bookstore that’s doing well. I get by in an expensive city. We’ve always paid our bills. We have loyal customers,” Richmond said. “I have connections with these people.”
It’s a tiny, general used bookstore that lures all Hayes Valley wanderers with its cheap, used books and 25 cent poetry gumball machine.
“There’s something about the neighborhood that there’s a confluence of different styles of living,” said Mark Jack, who works at the store. “This bookstore creates a community across boundaries, across class lines, across any kind of identity lines that you can think of. People here can get excited about some philosophy book and talk to each other.”
A graphic designer walks in, then a student studying interior designs, then a tourist from Portland, and a woman and her dog, Casper. When Frances Neagley walks into Bibliohead, Casper gets treats from the owner, and she gets books.
“I have an entire To Read list that is basically this entire bookstore.”
“I’m in a couple book groups. Rather than going out and trying to find the little book for the book group, I tell Melissa and she gets them for me,” Neagley said. “I have an entire To Read list that is basically this entire bookstore.”
This is Carol Collier’s neighborhood bookstore. She’s been coming as soon as it opened.
“My husband and I walk around the neighborhood a lot, and we saw it. I said, ‘Look! A bookstore,’” she said. “And it’s got used books. There’s walls lined with books, narrow little aisles, and books on each side. It’s just a great environment to get inside.”
Richmond says that’s what she enjoys most: watching people outside just strolling, strolling, and strolling when suddenly –
They stumble upon a bookstore.
“They cross the threshold and you can hear them exhale a sign of relief because they’ve had their SmartPhones strapped to their sides all day,” Richmond said. “Being confronted with real, tactile objects is a profound relief for people that have to deal with the digital world all day long.”
Elijah Ball discovered the store three years ago, and has been coming ever since. He likes to talk to Richmond about James Baldwin and interior design. “I love the variety of books,” he said. “And they’re all used. It adds something to the neighborhood. We have a lot of restaurants and clothing stores, but we also have a bookstore.”
Accidental discovers in the store include Graphic Arts of the Alaska Eskimo, Political Parties and Primaries in Kentucky, and Meatmen: An Anthology of Gay Male Comics. You don’t just spontaneously search for that stuff on Amazon.
Richmond has had over 30 years in the book business, working at Dog Earred Books and Green Apple, and can’t see herself leaving the book world anytime soon, even if it means moving to the East Bay where the rent is cheaper. She’s loved her store since she opened it in 2004, but now that she faces closure, even her fondest memories are dark ones. She remembers once when man who had just purchased a Kindle walked by the store, and yelled, “Your bookstore is going to die!” Richmond offered him a book.
“He wanted to feel like he was apart of the future, and we were apart of the past that was going to die,” she said. “But we haven’t died. Despite the advent of the e-book, we have prospered and thrived.”
Now, she just needs a bit of help. She’s launched Indiegogo campaign, and has raised over $4,500. But that’s only 8% of her funding goal of $60,000, money she’ll need to figure out how to lure people to her store all over again. But, she says, she doesn’t know how to run a successful crowd sourcing campaign.
All she knows is how to sell books.