A cultural oasis at Dog Eared Books, celebrating 25 years in business – Mission Local

On a rapidly changing block of a rapidly changing street, where retailers have been struggling to stay open, Dog-Eared Books will celebrate its 25th anniversary this Saturday. It’s been at 20th and Valencia streets for 20 of those years. We chatted with founder Kate Rosenberger about running a bookstore these days – she also operates Alley Cat Books on 24th Street and a second Dog Eared Books location in the Castro – and the street she works on, and the future.

Mission Local: So, 25 years. How did you do it?

Kate Rosenberger: How did I do it?

It’s a combination of things. Certainly location, but also the fact that we’ve been willing to adapt with changes on the street and the changes in culture and the changes in the world and readers’ relationships to books and the written word.

There’s this thing they say about bookstores and bookstore owners – you can walk into a bookstore and tell when they opened the bookstore because that bookstore is frozen in time.

That was true when we had a lot of funky little used bookstores, which we don’t have anymore

We have very dedicated managers and people at the store that believe in the books and believe in what an incredible world it is to live in

How does a bookstore adapt?

KR: Books have been around for a really long time and I think we’re hard wired to be connected to them and I don’t think the tipping point where we can completely disconnect.

I don’t think we’ve reached the tipping point yet. I think that there are enough people around, not just of my generation and older but I think there’s a comfort in paper and there’s a comfort in slowing down and not having 50 or 250 books on your tablet.

I think there’s a comfort in focusing and having a longer attention span and devoting yourself to one book and making that decision.

Culture is on a huge swing sort of back and forth, and we will find our natural balance.

We have a pretty wide variety of things so if people are open to the experience of things hopefully they’ll still at least be delighted by the physical environment and sociability of the space, that is face to face. I think that’s a bit refreshing for people still.

We really ask people to not be on their phone in the store, we work really hard on creating an environment that is dictated by the physical space.

I used to call us a cultural oasis 25, 30 years ago when I first started doing that. And I think we are still to a degree – it’s definitely a different oasis.

More and more people are looking for fewer and fewer titles. I’m not going to say that there’s less intellectual curiosity because I don’t think that’s true. But books will not fulfill that as much as it used to – people Google things to figure out whatever – you know, what was Hamilton wearing when he shot his duel? Frankly the internet is a lot better for a lot of these things.

I’m glad that we don’t have to deal with the phone book anymore or that I have to advertise in one.

I don’t think we’re luddites. But I do think that we have an important place in culture and I think we will for some time.

Kate Rosenberger hopes to spend most of her time at her new 24th Street bookstore. Drawing by Robyn Dalbey.

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Valencia is different now…How has the block changed?

KR: Well now I’ve got like five ice cream stores here.

Valencia street really, for a time, spawned this whole cultural trend or awareness – ‘whoa Valencia street!’ It was like the hippest hottest coolest thing in town, like, the hipsters came in and we had artisanal everything and small batch that and it was great. They were sort of like our new hippies.

[They had an] incredible sense of style and interest in minutiae and …I think that isn’t so much the case anymore.

I think the rents went through the ceiling they went into the stratosphere and brick and mortar became very difficult on the street so that made it a sort of more rarified street, you couldn’t open sort of crazy mad harebrained ideas.

So now you’ve just got to have a higher price point and that changes the nature of the street. It’s harder to find an affordable meal, and a lot of affordable things for the people that come here and work.

Everything becomes a bit more precious, the strollers become more expensive. Lots of double wide strollers – we sell a lot of children’s books now.

So what’s next? What is your dream for the future?

KR: I would like to see a resurgence of bookstores in San Francisco. I think that right now there are a lot of stores that carry like 10 books, they sort of become a gift items. I would like to see more specialized bookstores.

I did help spawn other bookstores in the area – Great Overland bookstores had three at some point, I helped start Bibliohead. Maybe it’s time to spawn a bunch of new stores again, that would be a great thing.

There are more questions than answers, as far as the future. In a perfect world some of the artists driven out of San Francisco get to come back and apartments become affordable here, there’s a balancing, a coming back, and that there isn’t this sort of diaspora of longtime San Francisco residents.

The way that I think about it, especially with Michael [Roman]’s passing, is the present is our present, is a gift. Try to stay with today and with now. It doesn’t help tripping out on what might be.

I just really wish my best to this community and give out a big thanks to San Francisco for supporting me over these last 32 years of running five different bookstores in eight different locations.

I have a lot of gratitude for that and I think of San Francisco as the little city that could, and I appreciate that the people of San Francisco are still learning and growing and adapting and hopefully doing their best.


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