Wednesday, July 20, 2011

San Francisco Bookstores — Booksmith, Up To Date In Historic Haight

This is the fourth in a series of short articles on independent San Francisco bookstores. While their numbers are dwindling, there are still many colorful, one-of-a-kind bookstores in various colorful, one-of-a-kind San Francisco neighborhoods.

Visitors call it “Haight-Ashbury.” San Franciscans usually refer to it as “the Haight.” And indeed walking through the neighborhood, down Haight Street there are ghosts from the “summer of love.” On the famous street there are still head shops and places to buy cannabis legitimately and illegitimately. There are stores selling vintage clothing, many interesting restaurants and bars, an almost absurd number of shoe stores, a well-stocked hardware and two fine grocers. Booksmith, the Haight’s only bookstore (the anarchist bookstore is gone now) has managed to tastefully and subtly blend in with the neighborhood’s flower-power past while delivering what you’d expect from any fine independent bookstore.

There are well-stocked and smartly selected sections for photography and art, literary fiction, science fiction and mysteries. There are graphic novels, literary journals, comics, books on politics, books for children, a magazine section as well the standard aisles of books on food, self-help, spiritual, politics and philosophy. The Haight hasn’t escaped, nor should it, its strong and some would say radical, political roots. There are more anarchists than registered Republicans living in the area, no doubt. This too is reflected in choices available to the reader along with fascinating suggestions from the staff.

New owners took over the store recently. It was a store already that had a great reputation, especially for author events. The newly revamped Booksmith is making its mark as well. It gets high marks from Yelp, for example. The space is clean and organized. Fortunately and no doubt with intent, the recent makeover didn’t sterilize the environment. It is a warm, calming and welcoming place with a nuanced approach to its legendary location and the expectations that come with it. Just outside its front doors is one of the most bustling neighborhood streets in the city.

1644 Haight Street, (415) 863-8658,

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