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Program Notes

A paradise of words and good coffee: The Readers Bookstore and Café

For years, I have envisioned creating a literary dining place for people who love good food and books, and who enjoy being read to from those books. I actually had a dream in which I saw the teacups, the carpets, the kind of food we’d serve, and the events we’d produce there: if we read aloud from Russian novels, then Russian teas, vodkas and food would be served; if American literature was featured, then traditional Yankee pot roast and root veggies along with Kentucky bourbon n’ branch would be on the menu. I even dreamed of children’s events where juvenile classics were read aloud while hotdogs, sodas and ice cream were served. I’ve embellished this pipe dream with such details for years. I saw it being in an old restored house in the Connecticut countryside, sleigh bells ringing as snow-dusted horses pull up with our guests.

Well, here I am now in the West, far from snow-dusted anything. The dream has been deferred and tucked away, but in the meantime I’ve found a whisper of it right here in the Marina: Readers Bookstore and Cafe in Fort Mason Center. A welcoming, book-cradled space redolent of rich coffee, it satisfies many appetites. I learned its history from manager Sarah Rosedale when we sat down to chat over a cup of their great coffee.

When did Friends of the San Francisco Public Library come to Fort Mason?

SR: Friends of the Library, a members’ volunteer group, has a long history with Fort Mason, from the early 1970s when nonprofit organizations were asked to repurpose these military spaces. The Friends stepped up, saw how these buildings could be used, and it seemed like an economical, beautiful fit. With over 30 regular volunteers at our store now – some of whom date back to the ’70s when we first came to Fort Mason – we act as an outreach vehicle to educate people about book donation, our annual book sales, poetry programs, and so much more.

This is a donation center for the San Francisco Public Library?

SR: Yes. But before the donation center opened, we were holding a large annual book sale here, which we still hold in the Fort Mason Pavilion. It became so popular, now we hold that book sale twice a year!

And the Friends have two bookstores?

SR: There is one at the main branch as well. Ours is the larger store – over 2,000 square feet of books at this store alone. We receive new books here every other day, and accept gently used books down at our 438 Treat Street main donation center in the Mission. Over 750,000 books a year are brought there from all over the city, enabling our stock to vary. People can shop here every day and see a low-priced, ever-changing selection. Everything that does not sell here, we keep for the annual sales.

These book donations are tax deductible?

SR: Right. The Treat Street Donation Center is open 10 a.m.–2 p.m. Monday through Saturday, with the bulk of donations coming from individuals, which adds to the richness of our collection. Volunteers accept the books, sort them by subject, then library staff further process and decide which books go where. All sale proceeds from these donations – wherever they are sold – go to support the S.F. Public Library and its various programs.

Like your free Poetry Thursdays?

SR: Yes! Every Thursday evening at 6:30, S.F. poets read their work here, hosted by Jack Hirschman, San Francisco’s former poet laureate. Readers Cafe – which was added to the store only a few years ago – has coffee, tea, food, and pastries at special prices, with all proceeds supporting the library. You can go online at www.readerscafe.org for the schedule of poets. They’re terrific.

Those Thursday poetry evenings? I come every chance I get!

SR: We all better ourselves through reading and being exposed to literature and to writers new to us, so if Readers Bookstore and Cafe can provide a space for people to do that, we’ve done our job. We try to make it a welcoming space for all. To come to, enjoy and grow. Browse all you want, buy at affordable prices, sip a coffee, hear a favorite or new poet. You can do all that here. Writing and reading are very much alive in San Francisco, and we are a place where people can be surrounded by others who love it all as much as they do.

Folks, I couldn’t have dreamed it better myself.

The bookstore and café are open seven days a week, from 9 a.m.–6 p.m., but later on Thursdays. Get yourself over there, and meet Sarah!

Readers Bookstore and Cafe: Building C (South End), Fort Mason Center, 415-771-1011, www.readerscafe.org

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