Stacey’s Closes

Stacey’s, the dependable bookstore on Market Street that kept many Financial District serfs reading good books, is going to be closing in March, and I’m more than a little devastated. This was a bookstore that helped me in more than a few small ways to become who I am today. While working any number of dull and brainless jobs in my twenties, both temporary and permanent, in which I had to pretend to be an idiot for eight hours to pay the rent, I would often set off to Stacey’s during my lunch hour and discover some novel that I didn’t know anything about. It was at Stacey’s where I discovered William Gaddis, and where I purchased the dogeared copy of The Recognitions that still sits on my stacks. It was at Stacey’s where I first purchased books by Nicholson Baker and David Markson. It was at Stacey’s where I saw Douglas Adams read from Starship Titanic, among many other authors. My employers at the time paid close attention to the white Stacey’s bags that would proliferate underneath my desk in the late afternoon. There were four incidents when I was rudely asked, not more than twenty minutes into my lunch hour and before I had even grabbed something to eat, to come back to the office to work on some pressing and mundane task, because those who employed me knew that I could be found at Stacey’s, lost amidst all the great books. A few of them resented me for having the temerity to read or get excited about books (one even asking me, “Why are you wasting your time reading?”), but I regularly purchased books for those who didn’t. Because of Stacey’s, I managed to get two very wonderful Ukranian ladies hooked on Dickens and Updike, and even procured slang dictionaries to help them learn a number of key phrases that could help them out. (It occurs to me now that Stacey’s actually urged me to become an informal teacher and an under-the-radar encourager. Good Christ, how many others did the bookstore help to blossom?)

Sure, you could walk up Columbus and go to City Lights, which remains a wonderful bookstore. But with City Lights, you somehow felt that you were cheating. Because you were walking into a different neighborhood. Stacey’s was perhaps the only place within the Financial District that had quirky or experimental novels running deliberately at odds with the base capitalism still sprinkling throughout that area of San Francisco. Stacey’s opened their doors and somehow knew that you were still trying to figure out how to make that great artistic leap forward. They knew that you had a little bit of expendable income from your day job, but they regularly offered special sales to loyal customers and kept you coming back.

Stacey’s not only had a great fiction selection, but an ample nonfiction selection. I must have dropped thousands of dollars there over the years.

It was the oldest bookstore operating in San Francisco: older even than City Lights. And while City Lights could easily dwarf Stacey’s in terms of poetry selection, what was special about Stacey’s was that, if you were a geek, you could get any number of the thick and helpful computer handbooks upstairs. (Stacey’s was the kind of bookstore that convinced me that I could learn JavaScript. And while this proved to be something that I could not do, the fact that I went down that avenue is of great credit to Stacey’s.)

The hell of it is that, in all my years of being a Stacey’s customer, I never knew that Colleen worked there. That working at Stacey’s could lead you down some path as an adept book industry professional says much about the bookstore’s power and draw.

The closing of Stacey’s leaves a terrible cavity in a part of San Francisco that urgently needs knowledge and imagination to help members of the white-collar underclass to get by. Yes, we’ll always have City Lights. But jumping into a Trojan horse is more subversive and liberating.

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6 Comments

  1. Ed-What a lovely tribute! I have been the trade buyer at Stacey’s for many years (just ask Colleen) and your description of our inventory fits exactly what I tried to do all these years. It’s very gratifying.

  2. This makes me so sad. Like you, I worked in the financial district in my twenties in a similarly soul-crushing job and spent a lot of time at Stacey’s. Now, I work in the Civic Center, where A Clean Well Lighted Place for Books recently went out of business — but at least it was replaced by Books, Inc.

  3. Great post, Ed. I thoroughly enjoyed my one (and now, only) visit to Stacey’s while on that same business trip when you and I first met. Speaking of which, I think I still owe you a drink to return the favor.

  4. i sold books for stacey’s for several years, from the late 80’s till mid-90’s, and went to work there because it was an independent bookseller, and i wanted to be an independent book-writer (stacey’s being the day job – i got so far as getting an agent, but never got the novels in print.) anyway, even then the bezos-bozos corporate trend that is indie-bookselling blight was very evident, so i flipped it and tried to use stacey’s long history with publishers world-wide to start acquiring obscure titles from obscure publishers for corporate libraries that encircled the store in their concrete towers, and made the store a good little income thereby. when i got news this past jan. that the store was closing, i got around to writing the owner, asking him to develop further my corp sales model, and one of his managers wrote back to tell me i was full of beans. so, i can only assume he knows more than me. but it’s a shame, SF is unique, and it will only stay that way if people keep reading and writing in and about it. the independently written and published and sold book is about as good a symbol of San Francisco as you are going to get, which happens to catch its spirit literally, too. something new will have to do that now. maybe the new beats will arise.

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