Thursday, July 18, 2019

Sponsor Letter, July 17th 2019

Hi You All,

I've got something a little thoughtful for you this month but, before I get into that -- a quick reminder.  This Saturday we'll be doing a San Francisco Ghost Walk for you guys.  All the details are below but, the tl;dr version is, 1)  It's cool.  2)  Starts at 7 pm.  3)  Costs $21.  And 4) We extended the deadline to sign up 'til this Friday.  So, if you feel like an evening stroll around the city with Jude and your fellow sponsors, please do get signed up for it.  I wish I could come but I'll be working at Haight St. that day and, after running up and down ladders, I'm not going to be up for much walking.


In the wake of several pieces of recent news and along with the decision to close the Cafe, I've been wondering where our city is heading.  And, more than that, I'm not just thinking about San Francisco but about all cities.  Granted, because of the local tech economy and the support it's received from city government, SF is an extreme example but the increasing flow of people back into cities is something that is affecting the whole country.  In 2015 I wrote a piece about the history of urban demographics in the US.  The bottom line was that, starting in the 1950s people started leaving cites and, starting in the 90s, people started moving back.  In that article, I speculated about the possible effects.  Now, almost four years later, it seems like my guesses back then were accurate.  (If you like, you can read the whole thing here -

Regarding small businesses, the first stage of the process was marginally profitable business closing their doors because of increasing rent and payroll costs.  That stage hasn't stopped yet but now I think we're seeing a second stage in which stable existing businesses are closing because of less direct pressures.  In one case, a nearly century-old family deli and pasta company, Lucca Ravioli, closed when the family decided to sell their real estate (which included the business location) and shut down. (  In another case, a bakery and cafe, Mission Pie, will be closing because they cannot accomplish the three fundamental goals of their business; pay a truly living wage, provide a top-quality product at an accessible price, and make a modest profit.  (  Finally, a small restaurant, Ali Baba's Cave, will be sold after 36 years after the owner realized that the market in the neighborhood had changed and, to keep sales up, he would need to re-imagine the business and menu.  (

Of course, there is also the example of Borderlands Cafe, which also needed a makeover.  But, even then, Z'ev (the manager), Jude, and I weren't convinced that we would be able to hire staff at the wages we could afford to pay.  I'd call that a combination of Mission Pie's and Ali Baba's Cave's problem.

The last piece that got me thinking about this essay was meeting the operating partner of a small hotel in town.  We talked about how hard is was to hire people right now and he gave me this shocking figure -- they are paying dishwashers (traditionally the lowest of the low in the restaurant business) $22 an hour, plus health insurance, 401K matching and paid vacation.  But they still can't hire enough staff!

What I've been thinking about is what cities are going to be like if these trends continue.  The first answer I get is, obviously, very godsdamn expensive.  All the costs of running a business eventually have to trickle down to the customers.  If you need to pay a dishwasher $30 an hour, then a cup of coffee is not going to cost $3.  And that, in turn, raises the cost of just living in a city, which in turn increases the amount you need to pay people.  It's not a never-ending spiral, because the effects start to dampen out as you go but . . . it's still quite a thing.

But, that has been discussed at length already.  It's the second thing that's been on my mind.  How many small business are going to exist in cities a decade or two from now?  Larger business both have efficiencies of scale, which reduce their operating costs, and they have the advantage of letting more profitable locations subsidize less profitable ones.  For example, as long as Starbucks is making good profits right outside the University of Michigan campus in Ann Arbor, they can afford to lose money in downtown SF.  In fact, as a matter of making sure that their brand is properly visible, Starbucks _must_ have a location in downtown SF.  Another consideration for a large business is that there isn't a single individual (or family) making their living and trying to have a good life by running that business.

Consider the family that owned Lucca.  Given the value of their real estate and the profitability of making pasta; with some reasonably prudent investing, they can probably earn more money per year,  _without working at all_, from the proceeds of the sale then they got from the business.  On the other hand, at the end of the day, the purpose of Starbucks is . . . to run Starbucks. If the people in charge of Starbucks don't do that, they are out of a job.

So, the big question on my mind is -- given all that, will anyone be willing and able to run a small business in a city like San Francisco in 20 years?

I think that I will.  Or, the person who follows me in running Borderlands will.  But we're in a unique situation due to you sponsors and having bought a building.  There is, to my knowledge, no other business in SF in that position.  Nor in any other city for that matter.

So, what about the business that just can't stomach charging people $50 for a pie?  Or the business run by an older owner who is just tired of hustling so hard to make less and less money and then sells it to a beginner who can't manage because it's so hard to break even?  Or the business that worked because in was in an owner/operator building that, once sold, is so expensive to rent that no small business can afford it?

The question that follows is: How can we, as residents of cities (or even just people who like to visit cities), improve the chances that unique, quirky, and unusual businesses will still exist in the decades to come?

I've got some thoughts about that, which I'll share next month (work allowing).  But I'd like to hear your thoughts as well.

All Best,

The Buford, WY version:

(1) Saturday, July 20th, 7:00 pm - San Francisco Ghost Hunt Walking Tour.  Cost is $21.00, payable with your RSVP by July 19th.

(2) Saturday, August 3rd, 3:00 pm (PUBLIC) - Reading, signing and Q&A with Charlie Jane Anders, Meg Elison, Shaenon K. Garrity, and Richard Kadrey (WASTELANDS: THE NEW APOCALYPSE) at Borderlands Books.

(3) Tuesday, August 6th, at 6:00 pm (PUBLIC) - Reading, signing and Q&A with Gail Carriger (RETICENCE) at Borderlands Books.

(4) Saturday, August 10th at 3:00 pm (PUBLIC) - Reading, signing and Q&A with Michael Blumlein (LONGER) and Paul Park (A CITY MADE OF WORDS) at Borderlands Books.

(5) Saturday, August 10th, 9:30pm (recommend arrival at 8:30 to secure a table) -- Drinks with Dueling Pianos at Johnny Foley's.  $10 cover at the door.

(6) Saturday, September 7th, 5:00 pm (PUBLIC) - Reading, signing and Q&A with Seanan McGuire (THE UNKINDEST TIDE) at Borderlands Books.

(7) Saturday, September 14th 3:00 pm (PUBLIC) - Conversation, reading & Q&A with Fonda Lee (JADE WAR) and Megan O'Keefe (VELOCITY WEAPON).

(8) Saturday, September 14th, 7:00 pm - Fall Sponsor Social at Borderlands Books.

(9) Sunday, September 15th, 3:00 pm - (PUBLIC) Reading, signing and Q&A with Chad Stroup, author of SEXY LEPER.

(10) September 22nd, 12:00 noon - Picnic and BBQ at Table #15 in Lindley Meadow, Golden Gate Park.

The New York City version:

(1) Saturday, July 20, 2019, 7:00 p.m. - San Francisco Ghost Hunt Walking Tour: From their website <>, "The original San Francisco Ghost Hunt Walking Tour, SF's first ghost tour, is a historical walking tour of the Pacific Heights neighborhood, one of the few neighborhoods to survive The Great Earthquake and Fire of 1906.  You'll walk a mile on tree-lined streets in a safe residential area with fine Victorian architecture.  You'll learn about real historic names of San Francisco -- how they lived, how they died, and the reports of their hauntings ever since.  We don't make it up.  We just report it.  You'll enjoy 90 minutes to 2 hours of guaranteed unearthly fun!"  Please RSVP with payment before July 19th so that we might give final numbers to our guide, who will meet us in front of the Healing Arts Center, 1801 Bush Street (corner of Bush and Octavia) under the tall trees.  You may pay in-store or call with credit card information.  (We've done this walking tour before and had a fantastic time, and even some unexplained, goose-bump invoking occurrences!)

(2) Saturday, August 3rd, 3:00 pm (PUBLIC) - Charlie Jane Anders, Meg Elison, Shaenon K. Garrity, and Richard Kadrey, WASTELANDS: THE NEW APOCALYPSE at Borderlands Books - From editor John Joseph Adam's site: "In WASTELANDS: THE NEW APOCALYPSE, veteran anthology editor John Joseph Adams is once again our guide through the wastelands using his genre and editorial expertise to curate his finest collection of post-apocalyptic short fiction yet.  Whether the end comes via nuclear war, pandemic, climate change, or cosmological disaster, these stories explore the extraordinary trials and tribulations of those who survive." We're delighted to welcome four fabulous local authors who contributed to the anthology!  Charlie Jane and Shaenon have amazing reprints, and Richard and Meg's stories are original to this collection.  Don't miss this event; we know it's going to be magnificently apocalyptic!

(3) Tuesday, August 6th, at 6:00 pm (PUBLIC) - Reading, signing and Q&A with Gail Carriger (RETICENCE) at Borderlands Books - Join us in welcoming author Gail Carriger back to Borderlands! This event, which celebrates the final book in the Custard Protocol series, is a touch bittersweet and also a bit mind-boggling, because TEN YEARS ago Gail did her first signing for SOULLESS here. Where does the time go? What is the meaning of it all? Is Percy really, finally done with hats? The answers to these and so many other questions can be found at the store on August 6th. We hope to see you here!

(4) Saturday, August 10th at 3:00 pm (PUBLIC) - Reading, signing and Q&A with Michael Blumlein (LONGER) and Paul Park (A CITY MADE OF WORDS) at Borderlands Books - We're very happy to host authors Michael Blumlein and Paul Park! Michael's gorgeous new novel LONGER is a science fiction study on mortality, consciousness and intimacy, and Paul's work is described by the publisher thus: "[w]ith exotic settings and characters truly alien and disturbingly normal, his novels and stories explore the shifting interface between traditional narrative and luminous dream, all in the service of a deeper humanism." Join us to meet these two fascinating authors and have the best time you've ever had gaining a deeper understanding of humanity!

(5)  Saturday, August 10th, 9:00pm (recommend arrival at 8:30 to secure a table) - Drinks with Dueling Pianos at Johnny Foley's, 243 O'Farrell St, San Francisco (b/t Cyril Magnin St & Powell St. at Union Square) $10 cover at the door.  We thought we'd try something a bit different this time 'round.  From their website: "Our entertainers will have you dancing, laughing and singing along to your favorite songs from every era.  You control the show!  Our typical audience brings together both tourists and locals alike, so you're sure to walk away with new friends, great stories and happy memories!!  Come join the fun!  We do not accept reservations for the room, as seating is limited.  To ensure your party is accommodated, we recommend you arrive as soon as the doors open to secure an area (usually an hour before show time).  Food menus are available, with a Full Bar offering a list of "lyrical" cocktails." <>

(6) Saturday, September 7th, 5:00 pm (PUBLIC) - Reading, signing and Q&A with Seanan McGuire (THE UNKINDEST TIDE) at Borderlands Books. Details TK.

(7) Saturday, September 14th 3:00 pm (PUBLIC) -  In conversation with Fonda Lee. We're happy to welcome World Fantasy Award winner Fonda Lee to Borderlands! Ms. Lee will be presenting JADE WAR, the second novel in the Green Bone Series. (The first book in the series, JADE CITY, won that World Fantasy Award, and "was nominated for the Nebula Award and the Locus Award, and was named a Best Book of 2017 by NPR, Syfy Wire, and others".) Ms. Lee will be in conversation with fabulous local author Megan E. O'Keefe. We hope you'll join us to meet both authors and explore this epic and magical fantasy series!

(8) Saturday, September 14th, 7:00 pm - Fall Sponsor Social at Borderlands Books.  Join us for food, drink, and merriment as we talk about books, buy books, and maybe even win some free books in the raffle. . . . more details to come!

(9) Sunday, September 15th, 3:00 pm  (PUBLIC) - Reading, signing and Q&A with Chad Stroup, author of SEXY LEPER. From the author's description, "It’s Halloween in the Hollywood Hills, and Kat Dyer's going to have the sexiest costume for a night of shameless debauchery. However, Kat’s plan is derailed when the costume shop screws up her order and gives her a costume that is the polar-opposite of sexy. Deciding it’s better to be temporarily ugly and seen than beautiful and quickly forgotten, Kat attends the biggest party of the year, only to awaken with the strangest post-Halloween hangover ever: partygoers are transforming into the likenesses of the costumes they wore the night before. Meanwhile, a mysterious force begins to stalk and pick them off on by one. Kat and her friends must discover the cause of the horror, and what they find will haunt them forever."

(10) September 22nd, 12:00 noon -- Picnic and BBQ at Table 15 in Lindley Meadow, Golden Gate Park.  Located near the western-most end of Lindley Meadow, join the crew of Borderlands as we soak up the (hopefully) warm San Francisco Fall sunshine and grill our favorite picnic treats.  We're actually leaving the store and venturing into the outside world for a potluck cookout in Golden Gate Park!  And, since it's September, it'll be the height of San Francisco summertime.  We've reserved table #15 (as close to the bathrooms as we could get!) at Lindley Meadow.  Directions are at the link below, but the TL;DR version is that Lindley Meadow is on the south side of JFK Drive, across from the 30th Avenue and Fulton Street entrance in Golden Gate Park. (At 30th Avenue and JFK, there is a sign for Lindley Meadow.) .
Bring something to put on the grill or something to share as a side; bring your picnic blanket and toys and games if you want them, and probably a jacket for possibly unpredictable summer weather.  Wine and beer are fine to bring but, please, no liquor and no glass, per the Park's request.  Friends and guests (including children) are super welcome, so please do bring 'em along.

No comments:

Post a Comment