June 28, 2017
Founder of NYC radical bookstore Bluestockings re-ups in sunny San Francisco, with Black Bird Bookstore
by Simon Reichley
If you’ve ever been to Bluestockings Bookstore, Activist Center, and Fair Trade Café on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, you would probably agree that “minimalist” is not a particularly apt descriptor of the shop. It is tidy, well stocked, radical, eclectic, vibrant, and—by its own description—“not a scent-free space.” But it is not “minimalist.”
This is only worth mentioning because Kathryn Grantham, who opened Bluestockings in 1999 and ran it for five years, is opening a new store in San Francisco: Black Bird Bookstore, a modest, 900-square-foot affair that is decidedly and deliberately minimalist in its approach. The store is something of an experiment, powered by an ecclectic analysis of the retail book market rather than, say, a Marxist analysis of capitalist patriarchy. As Grantham told the San Francisco Chronicle’s John McMurtrie:
“The model of 50,000 titles is just not current…. I believe people come to bookstores in search of ideas and recommendations,” she said. “If you mapped where people gravitate to most in a bookstore, it is the ‘staff picks’ section. We are turning that section into a whole store.”
The gambit here is that, if you want a particular one of the millions and millions of books available in the world, you may just casually amble into your local shop on a Saturday morning, praying they have exactly what you’re looking for — but, especially if it’s not new and not a big seller, many are likelier to order online. So Black Bird Books is—like so much these days—going the “curated” route. Currently, they stock about 250 titles, and Grantham plans to increase that to about 1,000 after a couple of months. Each book is faced out, with a handwritten recommendation from a staff-member.
The concept-driven shop is Grantham’s first foray into bookselling after a stint at the Harvard School of Business, where she joined such notable alums as Mitt Romney, Michael Bloomberg, George W. Bush, and Grover Norquist — not exactly a Bluestockings crowd, but the education is top-notch.
Simon Reichley is the Director of Operations and Rights Manager at Melville House.