Monday, January 9, 2017

Sponsor Letter, January 9th 2017

Dear Sponsors,

First, thank you to all our 2017 sponsors.  If you've renewed your sponsorship, I appreciate your faith and continued support.  And, if you've just started sponsoring Borderlands; Welcome and thank you so much!  I send these notes out once a month or so with news about the sponsor program and information about upcoming events.  New sponsors will also be getting a welcome email shortly from Scott Cox, our sponsor liaison, that will include detailed information about your sponsorship and associated benefits (and, your all-important sponsor number).  Now, on to my babbling . . .

A year ago, I was worried that, after the first impassioned flood of sponsors when it looked like we might close, peoples' interest would fade.  But, that didn't happen.  In 2016 we had around 650 sponsors, which is not as much of a decrease from the first year's 850 as I expected.

And, thus far this year, your support has remained strong.  As I write this, we don't have an exact count for the year so far, but I feel confident we will pass the critical threshold of 300 sponsors.  But, that said, if you haven't renewed your sponsorship for 2017, it would be a very fine thing if you did (the link to do that on-line is or you can come by the shop / mail a check if you prefer).  There are three reasons to renew your sponsorship this year, regardless of my confidence that we'll make it to 300 by March 31st.

1)  As I mentioned, the number of sponsors dropped by about 25% between the first and second years.  As I've stressed, this is a long-term program.  If we don't have 300 sponsors on March 31st each year, we close.  So, if the numbers keep dropping, we're going to hit that limit at some point and we're done.  As a business, there are long-term plans that would be wise to make years in advance.  For example, we've bought memberships and dealer's tables for the 2018 World Science Fiction Convention in San Jose.  Based on current trends, I feel relatively confident that we'll be in business to go to that convention.  But, if our numbers drop this year to 500, I won't have that sort of confidence for a convention in 2020.  So, keeping the numbers up gives me the confidence to make the sort of plans that will benefit us in the future.

2)  One of my most ambitious long-range plans is to purchase a building to house Borderlands when our current lease expires in 2021.  Or, at the very least, before the lease on the cafe expires in 2025.  Since we don't need the entire cost of the sponsorships to cover increased wages, I've been banking most of the excess to have on hand to cover the cost of such a plan.  So, in essence, every sponsorship over that minimum of 300 is $100 towards buying a building, doing the work to house our store, and moving the store there.  I'm not counting on sponsorships to get us all the way there but they will help a great deal.

3)  Finally, it's pretty cool to be a sponsor of Borderlands.  First off, it makes you part of a truly remarkable group of people.  As a group, our sponsors are some of the smartest, most pleasant, and accomplished people I've ever known -- and that's not even considering their part in our history-making sponsorship program.  Of course, there are also some nice benefits to being a sponsor.  Over the past two years those benefits have mostly been useful to people who can actually visit the store, but I'm working on that.  (Certainly, our guests at the sponsors-only whisky tasting we hosted at the World Fantasy Convention last year thought it was pretty neat.)

So, if you haven't renewed your sponsorship, now's a good time to do so.  Of course, you can renew anytime this year, but why wait?

I'll close this note with a story about something nice that happened right at the end of last year.  About two days before New Years, I got a call from the owner of a specialty coffee bar on an island in Puget Sound.  She was facing the possibility of closing up shop, because of wage increases, and she'd heard about Borderlands because of a news article about our sponsors.  We talked for almost an hour about how the program worked, how she had created a real community around her shop, and how she could work with her staff and customers to find a solution.  At the end of the call, she said how hopeless she had been feeling, and how much more optimistic she now felt about her prospects.  I hope to hear more from her so I can let you all know how it works out for her.

Then, fifteen minutes later, I started an hour and a half meeting with the owner and the general manager of a local nightclub, The DNA Lounge.  They've been having some serious financial problems and a bunch of their customers had suggested that they might want to talk with me about what we had done.  It was a good meeting overall and I hope that things work out well for them, but there was something funny that kept coming up.  We'd talk about ideas for a bit and then they would suggest something that was very smart, from a business and sales standpoint.  And I'd point out to them that it was a bad idea.  Because, for something like our sponsorships to work, it has to be a partnership -- not a sales and marketing opportunity.

Truly, we could probably "sell" many more sponsorships if we "marketed" them to our "customers" and made sure that it was a "good deal".  And, in the end, I think we would fail.  As I explained to the nightclub folks -- this isn't something I'm trying to sell to you.  From the very beginning, this was an opportunity for people who cared about Borderlands to allow us to stay open -- if they wanted.  Every day that I get to come to work is a gift you've given me (and the rest of the staff).  I'm humbled and grateful that you are willing to give it.  And I'm so happy that there are some things, slight though they are in comparison to what you've given me, that I can provide to show my appreciation.

So, here's to 2017!  I think we did it again this time around -  so, let's read some books, have a drink or two, and keep doing what we've been doing!

Warmest Regards,

PS  Oh, and I forgot to mention -- on November 3rd, 2017, we'll have been in business for 20 years.  I'm very glad that we'll get to celebrate that anniversary.

Upcoming Events

The Short Version
1) Bringing in the new year, we'll take a tour of the Speakeasy Brewery on Saturday, January 14th at 2:30 pm.  There will be a small charge for the tour and guests are welcome.

2) I, and several other folks, thought it might be nice to have a little social gathering on Friday, January 20th to mark an event that is, at the very least, slightly science-fictional and surreal.  So, we'll be getting together at the store for cookies, tea and company from 7 pm to 10 pm.  Guests are very welcome and, if you've got cookies that you're especially proud of, please do bring some.

3) The first sponsor social of 2017 will be on Saturday, February 11th from 7 pm to 11 pm.  Our quarterly parties are usually well-attended and a lot of fun (not to mention a great place to meet new friends).

4)  Our annual Sponsors' General Meeting will be on Friday, March 31st at 7 pm in the cafe.  A chance to talk about how we're doing, where we're going, and to give us your advice.

The Long Version

1) Tour of the Speakeasy Brewery < > on Saturday, January 14th at 2:30 pm (1195 Evans Ave, San Francisco, CA 94124).  Even before they were the beverage guest at one of our sponsor socials, we've been really big fans of the folks at Speakeasy Ales and Lagers, so it seemed obvious to us that a visit to their brewery and tap room would be in order in 2017.  They opened the same year as Borderlands and their operation right here in San Francisco is something to see -- they can turn out 90,000 barrels of beer a year at the current facility.  Despite their success, they're still a small, local company and just our kind of people.  Each tour group caps at 10 people but they run tours every hour so, if we fill up the first tour, we'll add another at 3:45.  As a consequence, guests are completely welcome.  There will be a nominal charge of $7 per person for the tour.  Please RSVP to to let us know you'd like to come, since we need to book a bit in advance (if you've already RSVPed, no need to do so again).

2) Cookies, Tea and Company on Friday, January 20th from 7 pm to 10 pm.  I, and several other folks, thought it might be nice to have a little social gathering to mark an event that is, at the very least, slightly science-fictional and surreal.  So, we'll be getting together at the store for cookies, tea and company from 7 pm to 10 pm.  Guests, in any numbers, are very welcome.  We'll provide some cookies but, if you've got a recipe (or supplier) that you're especially proud of, please do bring some to share.  Likewise, if you've a favorite sort of tea, you can bring that too (though we'll have plenty of tea on hand).  Also, if you feel like the evening deserves something a bit stronger than tea -- we won't tell if you don't.

3) The first sponsor social of 2017 will be on Saturday, February 11th from 7 pm to 11 pm.  Our quarterly socials are a very free-form, come-as-you-are, pot-luck and BYOB party.  We usually have a beverage guest and some sort of special retailer, and sometimes other entertainment.  There's lots of conversation, board games at the back of the cafe, free reading copies of upcoming books that caught our attention, and a door prize drawing.  It's a great place to meet folks and just hang out with a bunch of avid, avid readers.  If you've never been, you really should come.  The first one of the year is usually quite a celebration since it's the first time that I publicly announce the total number of sponsors for the year so far.  You're welcome to bring one guest and RSVPs are very much appreciated.  The party takes place at the store / cafe and entrance is through the cafe door.  I hope to see you there.

4) On Sunday, February 26th at 2pm, we're going to visit the "Beyond Tintin and Superman: The Diversity of Global Comics" exhibition at the Bernice Layne Brown Gallery, Doe Library at the UC Berkeley.  On the advice of a sponsor, we're going to check out this exhibit of comics and graphic novels from around the world.  From their website: "These materials often reflect the socioeconomic, ideological and political realities of the societies in which they are produced. . . . Comics and graphic novels portray differences by selectively intensifying various contradictions generated in society by censorship, race relations, political agendas and gender biases.  Some of the comics that are displayed may raise issues that are highly contradictory or painful to contemplate. . . the curatorial team encourages you to dissect, deconstruct, analyze and enjoy the pictorial narratives that these items portray!"  The exhibit is free and you are welcome to bring a guest.  We'll meet outside the Gallery at 2 pm, and it should take no longer than an hour to see the exhibit.  The UC campus is easily accessible from the Downtown Berkeley BART station.  If you live in San Francisco and would like a ride, or can provide a carpool, please RSVP and let us know so we can help arrange transportation.  The Doe Library is in the middle of campus, directly west of Sather Tower.  The Brown Gallery is on the first floor, off of the North entrance.  Directions are here: and you can find more information about the exhibit here:

5)  Sponsors' General Meeting on Friday, March 31st at 7:00 pm.  I'd really like to have a chance to talk with you about how things have gone through our second year as a sponsored store.  I want to know what we've done right, what we've done wrong, and what we can do better -- as well as answering any questions you have.  Also, this is where I talk about my ideas and plans for the future, especially the upcoming year.  It's sort of like a cross between a share-holders meeting and a big advisory board meeting.  I'll outline where we're at and then ask for comments.  I hope to see as many of you there as possible because some of the topics on my mind are pretty important, and I'd love to hear your thoughts.  If you can't attend in person, feel free to email me with your comments (we'll email a report on the meeting a week or two afterwards).