Thursday, October 10, 2019

Sponsor Letter, September 10th 2019

Hi Dear Sponsors,

It's been a busy couple of months.  In case you were wondering, you didn't miss last month's sponsor note -- there wasn't one.  I kept hoping that I'd have time to write a followup to the article about local businesses that I wrote back in July but the chance kept slipping past me.  And then I looked up and it was the 24th of August, so I figured that it didn't make sense to send a note for August.  So I planned to send one out right at the beginning of September.  You see how that worked out.

On the bright side, the hectic pace isn't the result of a problem, per se.  I've had a lot of work to do at the new building and so it's been a bit all-consuming.  Not to mention tiring.  I'm pleased to say that I can still do just about as much construction work in a day as I could when I was 40.  It's just that I'm much (much!) more sore and tired at the end of it.  That makes it hard to write something clever (or write something at all, really) at the end of the day.

It's looking like this month is going to be more of the same, which is why I realized this morning that I'd better go into work later so I can get this and the following article written _before_ I've spent a day framing walls.

Speaking of framing walls, what's making this month extra-plus busy is that the city is going to be replacing the sidewalk all along our block on Haight St.  Based on the work they've done, it's going to look great and the existing paving surely needs to be replaced.

The catch for me is that the front of the store there doesn't exist yet.  We tore out the old, crummy one months ago to put up temporary framing and plywood.  You may have seen the punchline to this story coming by now -- the temporary covering is resting on the sidewalk that is going to be replaced.  Granted, we could remove it all, build a new, temporary wall at the property line, and then put it all back once the sidewalk was done.  But, all together, that's several days of work that I'd rather not waste.  The other option is to get the framing for the new storefront in place before the sidewalk work.  Once the framing is there, we can cover it with plywood and do the finishing work at our leisure.

When the city sent the notice and schedule for the work on the sidewalk, it was supposed to happen in front of our shop in five weeks.  "Oh my," I thought, "I guess we'll have to jump right on that after the asbestos guys have removed the floor."

Then I talked with the job foreman yesterday.  It seems that the local merchants have put pressure on the city to get the work done faster.  So they're going to be at our shop by the END OF NEXT WEEK.

"Oh hell," I thought, "I guess that I know what I'm doing every waking moment between now and the 17th."

Bottom line is this -- the followup to my July article is going to be shorter and less comprehensive than I planned.  It's a damn shame because I got some great comments back from my first piece that improved my understanding, both of the problem and the breadth of it. (Side note - Thank you Bruno, Trudy, Lisa, Jayson, Lydia, Eloise, and Donald.  I didn't have time to reply to all of you but I really appreciated your comments.)  But I figure it's better to write something short than to have a plan for something long that never gets written.  I hope to come back to the topic sometime.

The other bottom line is . . . I'm not getting a whole lot of rest for the next week.  Seriously though, this isn't going to be impossible to get done.  I've got a clear idea what I'm building and it's not even close to as tricky as the bathroom.  It shouldn't be too hard -- just long and tiring.

Good thing I can still work like a 40 year-old, eh?  And also I good thing that I have _a lot_ of ibuprofen.

All Best,

PS  Like last time, I'm going to put the article at the end of this note.

PPS  Despite the construction work, I will be at the social this Saturday.  I hope to see you there.

Upcoming Events

The Ebenezer Place version:

(1) Thursday, September 12th at 6:00 pm (PUBLIC) -- Informal signing with D.J. Butler (WITCHY KINGDOM) Christopher Husberg (FEAR THE STARS) and Christopher Ruocchio (THE HOWLING DARK)

(2) Saturday, September 14th 3:00 pm (PUBLIC) -- In conversation with Fonda Lee (JADE WAR) and Megan O'Keefe (VELOCITY WEAPON)

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

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

(5) September 15th at 6:30 pm (PUBLIC) -- SF in SF (at the American Bookbinders Museum, 355 Clementina, San Francisco) with authors Christopher Brown and Hannu Rajaniemi

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

(7) Saturday. September 28th, 3:00 pm (PUBLIC) -- Reading and signing for SHATTER WAR by Dana Fredsti and Dave Fitzgerald

(8) Sunday, September 29th, 3:00 pm (PUBLIC) -- Reading and signing for THE FUTURE OF ANOTHER TIMELINE by Annalee Newitz

(9) Wednesday, October 2nd, 6:30 pm (PUBLIC) -- SF in SF (at the American Bookbinders Museum, 355 Clementina, San Francisco) with authors Garth Nix and E. Lily Yu

(10) Saturday, October 5th at 3:00 pm (PUBLIC) --  Reading and signing for TURNING DARKNESS INTO LIGHT by Marie Brennan

The Yonge Street version:

(1) Thursday, September 12th at 6:00 pm (PUBLIC) -- Informal signing with D.J. Butler (WITCHY KINGDOM, Baen, Hardcover, $25.00) Christopher Husberg (FEAR THE STARS, Titan Books, Trade Paperback, $14.95) and Christopher Ruocchio (THE HOWLING DARK, DAW, Hardcover, $27.00) - Join us for a meet-and-greet signing with three fantastic up and coming authors!

(2) 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!

(3) 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!  Our Fall sponsor social is usually the busiest one of the year, and we hope you'll come by to meet fellow sponsors and toast the absolutely incredible fact that YOU made it possible for the store to survive.  Bring your favorite treat or drink to share, be super-social, or simply find a book and a quiet corner to commune -- we're just delighted to have you.

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

(5) Sunday, September 15th at 6:30 pm (PUBLIC) -- SF in SF (at the American Bookbinders Museum, 355 Clementina, San Francisco) with authors Christopher Brown and Hannu Rajaniemi - (Suggested donation $10.)  Doors and bar at 6:00 pm, event begins at 6:30 pm.  We're so happy to participate in the Science Fiction in San Francisco reading series!  This month we're joined by fabulous authors Christopher Brown and Hannu Rajaniemi.  The authors will read a selection from their work, followed by Q&A from the audience moderated by Terry Bisson. Authors will schmooze & sign books after.  Books will be available for sale.  Seating is limited, so first come, first seated.  Bar proceeds benefit the American Bookbinders Museum. Questions? Email

(6) Sunday, September 22nd, 12:00 noon (PUBLIC) -- 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.

(7) Saturday, September 28th, 3:00 pm (PUBLIC) -- Dana Fredsti & David Fitzgerald, Reading, Q & A, and signing for TIME SHARDS: SHATTER WAR - Hometown favorites Dana Fredsti & David Fitzgerald present: SHATTER WAR, the thrilling sequel to TIME SHARDS!  Earth's past, present, and future have shattered in "the Event," yielding a terrifying new world of prehistoric monsters, lost cultures, strange technologies, and displaced armies.  Coming from different points throughout history, a desperate band of survivors join "Merlin," a mysterious figure who may be their only hope to save the world -- if he can be trusted.  When their twenty-third-century ship the Vanuatu is sabotaged by an unknown enemy and thrown far off its course, the team must discover who is responsible, even as they are split apart and fight to survive in the war-torn Shard world. . . .

(8) Sunday, September 29th, 3:00 pm (PUBLIC) -- Reading and signing from THE FUTURE OF ANOTHER TIMELINE by Annalee Newitz.  We're always thrilled to welcome local author Annalee Newitz to the store! Here's some info about the new novel from the publisher: "In a modern-day United States just a step away from our own, time travel is possible -- in fact, it has existed for as long as humanity itself. Jumping into the past is simple, and scientists say that altering the timeline is almost impossible. But Tess, an idealistic geology professor, has figured out how to use time travel to try to undo a horrible injustice in the past whose effects are still being felt in her own time. Meanwhile, in 1992, teenage riot grrl Beth's ordinary life is about to become a tangle of toxic friendship and murder. And across the timeline, a secret war is brewing as a group of men attempt to destroy time travel. If they succeed, only a small elite will have the power to shape past, present, and future. Tess and Beth are part of this hidden war that stretches back millions of years. But with the help of unlikely allies from times past and times yet to come, they may be able to save each other -- and build a different future." We do hope you'll join us to meet Annalee and check out this awesome book!

(9) Wednesday, October 2nd, 6:30 pm (PUBLIC) -- SF in SF (at the American Bookbinders Museum, 355 Clementina, San Francisco) with authors Garth Nix and E. Lily Yu. (Suggested donation $10.)  Doors and bar at 6:00 pm, event begins at 6:30 pm.  A special mid-week SF in SF!  We're so happy to participate in the Science Fiction in San Francisco reading series!  This time we're thrilled to welcome Garth Nix and E. Lily Yu!  The authors will read a selection from their work, followed by Q&A from the audience moderated by Terry Bisson.  Authors will schmooze & sign books after.  Books will be available for sale.  Seating is limited, so first come, first seated.  Bar proceeds benefit the American Bookbinders Museum. Questions? Email

(10) Saturday, October 5th at 3:00 pm (PUBLIC) -- Marie Brennan, TURNING DARKNESS INTO LIGHT  - We're always happy to welcome local author Marie Brennan to Borderlands!  Here's the cover copy from her new  novel (featuring Lady Trent's granddaughter!), which she'll be showing off October 5th: "As the renowned granddaughter of Isabella Camherst (Lady Trent, of the riveting and daring Draconic adventure memoirs) Audrey Camherst has always known she, too, would want to make her scholarly mark upon a chosen field of study.  When Lord Gleinleigh recruits Audrey to decipher a series of ancient tablets holding the secrets of the ancient Draconean civilization, she has no idea that her research will plunge her into an intricate conspiracy, one meant to incite rebellion and invoke war. Alongside dearest childhood friend and fellow archeologist Kudshayn, she must find proof of the conspiracy before it's too late.  TURNING DARKNESS INTO LIGHT is a delightful fantasy of manners, the heir to the award-winning Natural History of Dragons series, a perfect stepping stone into an alternate Victorian-esque fantasy landscape."

Further Thoughts about Small and Local Businesses

After publishing the first part of this article, I received a number of comments via email.  The overall content of them supported a conclusion that I had arrived at already but also made me realize that the extent of the problem was larger than I thought.

What I expected was this: the people who wrote me all support local businesses in a conscious and systematic way.  Given the composition of the group that gets these monthly letters, that wasn't a surprise.  After all, you all support Borderlands.

What I didn't expect was how broadly the environment in the Bay Area is hard on local businesses of _all_ types.  I heard from a contractor who mentors high school students and suggests to them that they'd be well advised to look for union work because it's too hard to make a living working as an independent contractor.  I heard from a martial arts instructor who hasn't been able to find a viable space in the East Bay to use for classes.  And I heard about multiple professional chefs who have closed or sold their restaurants and who now work as personal cooks for wealthy individuals.

I don't want to sound too dire, but it seems that San Francisco is turning into a city in which there are only three types of people: employees, managers, and a tiny pool of landlords. I suppose there are children and students as well but, if this goes on, they're just employees and managers to-be.  Damn few of them will ever become landlords or, for that matter, own their own home.  (As a matter of clarification: even the CEO or Director of the Board of a corporation is only a manager.  "Ownership" almost never clearly attaches to an individual.)  Imagine that: no business owners.  Just employees reporting to managers who report to other managers who eventually report to a top manager who then reports to a pool of "owners" who are profoundly uninvolved with what happens at the company week-to-week or even month-to-month.

And, I fear, this is a pattern that is happening all over the country.  Just not as fast as in San Francisco.

What to do?

More specifically, what to do at an individual and local level?  There are bigger movements taking place (Ecommerce, corporate mergers and acquisitions, reduced enforcement of anti-trust laws, limited appetite for labor protections, and so on) but that's far outside the scope of what I feel qualified to discuss.

The first thing is to support local businesses.  But you all know that and are doing it to the degree that works for you.  I'm not going to spend much time on that topic except to point out two things:

1)  Supporting local business doesn't mean turning your life inside-out to _only_ shop local.  For most people, shopping exclusively at local businesses is just not practical.  And not just in terms of cost; there are some sorts of businesses that just don't exist locally anymore (or they're hard to find and hard to get to).  For example, I go to Walgreens for prescription drugs because there are no local pharmacies anywhere near me.  The goal should be to shop local _first_.  Make local businesses your preferred choice.  That's all you've got to do.

2)  The foregoing is especially important to keep in mind because the other part of supporting local businesses is encouraging other people to do so.  All of you reading this already know why it's important to shop and spend local.  You might be able to make small changes to your habits, but you've already had most of the effect you're going to have.  But, if you can get other people to do it to, that makes a difference (possibly a big difference).  I'm not suggesting that you start shaming your friends for going to Starbucks or for shopping at Amazon. That'll just make you a jerk.  But, you can point out to them that shifting their habits even a little bit matters.  Local businesses are generally pretty small-scale operations.  One extra full table a night can make or break a restaurant.  One more hardcover book sold every day would pay our insurance at Borderlands.  You get the idea.

But, as we've seen over the past years, it doesn't seem that individuals making an effort to support local business is going to be enough.  That idea has been around for a while now and it hasn't fixed the problem.  Perhaps more education about it might make the difference but, at this point, I doubt it.

I believe that what it's going to take is for government and our elected officials to put their money where their mouths are; make the health and viability of local business a real priority rather than something that is merely given lip-service.

On a nuts-and-bolts level, what would that be like?  Here's one suggestion, but it's far from the only way.

First, define what "local" and "small" business means.  Let's say that "local" means that it is either physically within San Francisco or, if it doesn't have a physical location (think contractors and gardeners), the majority owner of the business resides in San Francisco.  "Small" can be based on annual gross receipts and should probably vary by business type (for example, a small landscaping company probably has lower expenses relative to its income than a mid-sized restaurant).  However, here's a hint -- the reasonable gross receipts threshold for a "small" business that maintains a physical location and a staff (for example, a corner store, a restaurant or a bookstore) is likely in the millions of dollars.  The expenses for a business like that are shockingly high in SF right now and not likely to go down much.  Which means that two million dollars in annual sales doesn't actually represent either much profit or that a business is particularly large.  I don't want to spend much time getting into minute detail about the math here but, if you doubt me, drop me a note and I'll put together an explanation for you.

(Fun fact - as of 2018, the small business exemption threshold for payroll tax was $300,000.  That's roughly the payroll for 11 employees working full time at _minimum_ wage.  When the cafe was open, we often edged close to that limit and one year we passed it.  The gross receipts threshold was $1,120,000.  I'm pretty sure that most of the corner stores in San Francisco do that much business in a year.  If a business is over either of those thresholds, it has to pay tax.)

Keep the two qualifications separate.  Just because a business isn't "small", the fact that it's "local" still matters.

Then, make doing business easier, faster, and less expensive in any way possible.  Every delay, problem, and expense makes running a business more difficult, especially if it's a small one, because at the end the cost is paid with the same resources -- time and energy.

(A side note: if you're serious about accomplishing that, don't make those goals something that "should be taken into consideration" by a department whose main job is doing something else, like planning, issuing permits, levying taxes and so forth.  Make it someone's job to do nothing other than make things better for local businesses.  Hopefully several "someones", or even an actual office.  And no, the SF Department of Small Business is not it -- not enough power and not enough information.)

Here are some specific examples:

Dedicated assistance with building permits
A local commercial parking permit exempting the holder from parking meter fees and residential street parking time limits
Assistance with city tax returns, especially business property tax returns
Free legal advice, especially on commercial leases and disputes

Accelerated review of conditional use permits (they can take 9-12 months and you can't really start without _already_ having a signed lease)
A one-stop registration center for new businesses, including highly informed advisors
Something similar to the existing 311 service to act as a clearing house specifically for small business concerns and questions

Less Expensive:
Fee waivers for any and all city fees, be they construction permits, business licenses, sign permits, health department permits, and so on.
Reduced or eliminated taxes for payroll/gross receipts and business property (there are exemptions for the payroll/gross receipts taxes but they are too low - i.e. corner stores often have to pay them despite the exemption)
Reduced electrical fees from the city-owned electrical generation system

That is just a short, off-the-top of my head list.  I'm sure that there are many other and better ideas that could be implemented.  I'm also positive that I'm completely failed to consider problems that are major issues for other type of businesses, since I can only view this from the perspective of a bookseller.

Granted, some of these ideas would cost money.  Moreso, some of them would deprive the city of income.  But, local business are a truly tiny part of the commercial environment in San Francisco (or any other city, for that matter).  That's part of the problem that we face - little of the money that moves around the city even touches us.  I suspect that there are single companies in SF that produce more revenue for the city than all the small local businesses put together.  Waiving parking meter income or the $375 in business property tax I paid this year . . . it's just a tiny, tiny drop in the bucket compared to SF's annual budget (12.3 billion dollars for 2019).  I have a hard time believing that, for example, giving every contractor who lives in SF free parking would make any damn difference at all to the bottom line.  So why not do it?  Even if it pinches the city's budget; wouldn't you prefer that the budget get pinched by supporting local business than by any of the other dumb-ass things that money gets wasted on?

In closing, for all that small businesses represent just a tiny slice of the commercial activity in a city, we do so much to give the city its character, shape, and reputation.  City Lights Bookstore, Cafe Trieste, Twin Peaks Tavern, the whole of Chinatown, Foreign Cinema, Body Manipulations, The DNA Lounge, The Pork Store Cafe, Arizmendi Bakery, Bi Rite . . . the list goes on and on.  On a profound level, local businesses are what define San Francisco for both we who live here and for those who visit.

Beyond the many social and financial benefits that local businesses bring -- can you imagine what SF (or New York, Portland, or even Chapel Hill, North Carolina) would be like if even half of the local businesses were to close and be replaced by their national chain substitutes?

I don't even want to imagine what that would be like.  And I really, really don't want to see it happen.

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