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San Francisco

Haight Street's The Booksmith Named SF Legacy Business

On Monday, October 3rd, the Booksmith—one of the Upper Haight's most longstanding businesses—was recognized by the City of San Francisco as a legacy business.

To the surprise of owners Christin Evans and Praveen Madan, the store was nominated by District 5 Supervisor London Breed herself at The Booksmith's 40th anniversary party in July.

The Legacy Business Registry & Preservation Fund was created through last year's passage of Proposition J, a ballot measure aimed at incentivizing landlords to grant certain businesses long-term leases in an increasingly tough commercial real estate market. In August, the city named the first nine legacy businesses; this week, the Booksmith was one of five more to be added to the registry.

Proposition J defines eligible businesses as those that "existed for more than 30 years and could show significant contribution to San Francisco's identity." Businesses given this designation have the opportunity to approach their landlords with a request for a 10-year extension on their lease. If the landlord agrees, he or she would get an annual grant of $4.50 per square foot for doing so. Businesses will also be granted $500 per employee. 

The Booksmith's front window, all done up. | Photo: Amy Stephenson

Originally opened by Gary Frank in 1976 beneath historic nightclub the I-Beam (1746 Haight St.), the Booksmith moved to its current location at 1644 Haight St. in 1985.

When he opened, "the Haight was a challenging place to do business, to say the least," said Frank. "But an independent bookstore, I firmly believed, was a important and necessary element in the rebirth of the Haight and I worked hard to ensure that it remained a vital part of the neighborhood."

In 2007, Frank and his wife Debbie decided to sell the business, but maintain ownership of the building. Evans and Madan purchased the Booksmith, and Frank remains their landlord. 

"When Christin and Praveen took over the business in 2007, I knew that the Booksmith and its legacy were in good hands," Frank continued. "They have adapted the store as the neighborhood has evolved, and established the Booksmith as a pillar ofthe community." 

Gary Frank and Christin Evans at The Booksmith's 40th-anniversary party. | Photo: The Booksmith/Facebook

Evans reported that the legacy business application process was very manageable. "The process so far has been very smooth," she told us. "It took a couple of months—from the end of July until early October—and the city was quite good about communicating the timeline and expectations along the way."

The store's 20-page application for legacy status included pictures, newspaper clippings, and other artifacts from the past four decades. In the application, Evans highlighted the store's "leading events program," which has played host to legends like Allen Ginsburg (in his last reading before his passing), Timothy Leary, Hunter S. Thompson (who was shadowed by Johnny Depp, researching his role in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas), Dave Eggers, Neil Gaiman, Art Spiegelman, Annie Liebovitz, Neil Young, and Patti Smith.

Booksmith co-owner Christin Evans (left) with Patti Smith. | Photo: The Booksmith

The store also credits itself as being one of the first bookshops to have its own website, and was an early innovator with IBID, Inc., who created one of the bookstore industry's first point-of-sale and inventory management systems. 

"We don't know yet what the legacy business status might mean for Booksmith," Evans said. "But the promise of the business legacy program is that it will offer financial grants which will help preserve the institutions the neighborhood values. So it's nice to know there could be help available if needed."

Photo: Cheryl Guerrero

Along with The Booksmith, two other independent booksellers—Green Apple Books and Dog Eared Books—were also awarded legacy status this week. We'll keep you posted as the city continues to move forward with the program.

For more stories on newly minted SF legacy businesses, check out our conversations with Specs Twelve Adler Museum Cafe, Two Jacks Nik's Place, Toy Boat Dessert Cafe, and Moby Dick

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