Small Business Awards 2008: Chain Alternative Award

Books and Bookshelves

If there was ever a metaphor for San Francisco's growing income divide, it might be its furniture market: a sea of IKEA particleboard and Craigslist castoffs swirling around islands of Danish modern and high-end boutiques.

Books and Bookshelves, a small shop on the corner of Sanchez and 14th streets owned by the husband/wife duo David and Gade Highsmith, provides some much-needed middle ground while filling two niches: affordable, solid wood bookshelves and poetry.

The simplicity of this pairing matches the no-frills feel of Books and Bookshelves' Sanchez Street storefront. Fancy it's not: white walls and high ceilings surround the rows of bare bookshelves crowding the aisles. A small collection of books hides in the back.

Customizing — whether it's choosing a varnish color or commissioning a specially built shelf — is what gives Books and Bookshelves a competitive edge over chain outlets. David Highsmith estimates that half his business is custom work — from doghouses to specialized shelving — made at one of the store's two local workshops or by someone from a network of independent woodworkers and other manufacturers Books and Bookshelves contracts with. Highsmith says they attempt to buy green or locally sourced materials whenever possible while striving to keep costs low.

Prices manage to keep pace with the big chains as well. Basic bookshelves run between $100 and $200 unfinished; larger, fancier pieces run from $500 on up. A custom paint or varnish job adds 40 to 60 percent to the cost, but customers can do their own finishing for about $30 in supplies.

The gem of the store for browsers is the poetry section, full of chapbooks with silkscreen or letterpress covers that most bookstores no longer bother to carry. Occasionally the Highsmiths host in-store readings with local poets. More than just cute, Books and Bookshelves' commitment to selling books — clearly not the most profitable part of the operation — gives the place a true sense of character and reflects a commitment to something greater than the bottom line.


99 Sanchez, SF

(415) 621-3761

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