"There wasn't a bookstore in my hometown," said Luan Strauss, owner of Laurel Book Store in Downtown Oakland. “I don't think I went into a bookstore until I was a teenager."
Laurel Book Store is at the center of Oakland's downtown, but the store’s original location was in Strauss’ neighborhood in the Laurel District. After thirteen years, a desire to expand and an expired lease motivated her to relocate.
"I was originally looking in Uptown, but this space was open, and we've been here two years," Strauss said.
Although San Francisco is losing queer touch points like the Lexington Club, Oakland's LGBTQI business community is very active, if less visible, Strauss said.
"Queer and gay-owned businesses are more integrated here," Strauss noted, adding that Laurel Book Store is in a well-trafficked space surrounded by breweries, wine bars, and retailers like Oaklandish and Solespace. "My goal is to be a part of the community, and every neighborhood wants a bookstore."
Despite the development and variety, Strauss said Friday is her busiest day, followed by a drop off on weekends. Once workers commute home to residential neighborhoods, downtown is a less vibrant place.
According to Strauss, the lack of area residential capacity and a perception that the area isn’t safe contribute to the relative inactivity at Oakland’s epicenter. Factor in the appeal of Amazon's prices and convenience, and it's easy for customers to see bookstores as a place to browse, rather than as local institutions that need to be supported.
In October, Strauss made the unusual move of putting out a call for a new business partner. Opening in the new location has been "like starting over,” she said, so she’s hoping to develop a ten-year plan that leverages marketing and customer engagement to make Laurel Books a pillar of downtown's cultural scene.
To service that goal, the store regularly hosts events for local authors and small presses, as well as for self-published writers. Laurel Book Store also operates school book fairs, hosts art showcases on First Fridays, and maintains a website where customers can place orders and pre-orders.
"The people I deal with every day love books,” said Strauss. “The best part of my job is talking to people about books and making recommendations."
On Sunday, February 18, Laurel Book Store is hosting Diverse New Voices: Poetry and Prose. San Francisco Chronicle columnist Vanessa Hua and novelist R. O. Kwon will join poets Ashley M. Jones and Dara Barnat to read samples of their new work. The event begins at 5pm and continues until 7pm at 1423 Broadway.
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