Alexander Books: A Respite from the Daily Grind

By Kathy Nguyen

Located amidst the hustle and bustle of downtown San Francisco, Alexander Book Company stands a world apart. The independent bookseller offers a welcome retreat from the stream of human traffic and Muni buses rumbling along Market Street. The large, three-level bookstore has a surprisingly cozy atmosphere characteristic of smaller neighborhood bookstores.

Owners Michael and Bonnie Stuppin opened Alexander Book Company in 1990. Michael Stuppin began his career in the book industry at B. Dalton in New York. He left his job when the store decided to pull Salman Rushdie’s controversial book, The Satanic Verses. Stuppin was asked to resign after he told the media that he was disappointed with the bookseller’s decision to pull the book.

"If you don’t tow the line, you’re not wanted," says Stuppin, conceding that his experience at B. Dalton was enlightening.

A native San Franciscan, Stuppin decided to return to the City and open his own bookstore.

"At the time, I felt that San Francisco was lacking a strong, literature-based bookstore, and I wanted to give something back to the community," says Stuppin.

Stuppin convinced his sister Bonnie, a child care worker, to help with the bookstore, and promised that she could be in charge of children’s books. Although her main passion is children’s books, Bonnie Stuppin buys books for several sections, including cooking, hobbies, fashion and psychology. Both the Stuppins manage the store’s daily operations.

One of Alexander Book Company's special highlights is its series of literary events. In addition to the Rhythm River poetry readings, the store hosts book club meetings and author events called Sister Circle. Jerry Thompson, a former staff member, started the monthly Sister Circle program, which initially focused on African American women. Readings by African American authors have included Alice Walker, Venise Berry and April Sinclair. Thompson, who is African American, wanted to find a way to connect with the black community, and began booking African American authors for store events. He was also responsible for the bookstore’s extensive African American collection. Although Thompson left Alexander Books to start his own bookstore, Black Spring Books in Vallejo, he still coordinates the Sister Circle program.

The events are held weekdays at 12:30 in the afternoon to accommodate customers who work downtown and come into the store during their lunch time.

"Over the years, the Sister Circle has blossomed to include discussion forums and readings by non-African American authors," says Bonnie Stuppin. "But we started with that emphasis because back then, there were really no resources for people of color, especially African Americans."

These days, Alexander Books is considered a popular destination. The bookstore is featured in San Francisco’s walking tours brochure put out by the tourism board. "It’s really put us on the map," says Stuppin, whose regular customers include people from all over the Bay Area.

Alexander Books’ commitment to fostering a dialogue between people in the community is apparent. A bulletin board devoted to customer recommendations and book reviews is posted just inside the store’s main entrance. Various literary magazines, local publications, events calendars, and maps of the Bay Area are also available for free.

On the main level you’ll find several large literature sections for fiction, non-fiction, poetry, anthologies, science fiction, mysteries, African American literature and African American studies. The bookseller’s special section for Blackboard fiction and non-fiction features the five best-selling books by African Americans in both categories. Here you’ll find books by Venise Berry, Michael Eric Dyson, T.D. Jakes, Bernice L. Mcfadden, and more. The African American studies section includes works by celebrated black artists ranging from Aretha Franklin and Maya Angelou to Tupak Shakur. The store also carries a very good selection of magazines.

The upper level features a wide variety of books in many subjects: children’s books, cooking, diet and health, child care, fashion and beauty, hobbies, gardening, music, mythology, nature, metaphysics, pets, philosophy, eastern philosophy, psychology, self-help, religion, sports, travel, women’s studies and world travel. Numerous publisher returns are available for an additional 30 percent off.

Downstairs you’ll find multiple sections including American studies, California history, world history, art, architecture, biography, business, computers and technology, current events, drama, foreign languages, gay and lesbian literature, graphics design, house and home, military, references, science and textbooks.

Alexander Books is the perfect place to escape from the daily grind. Stop by, grab a book, and unwind with a cup of tea, compliments of the house.

Alexander Book Company, 50 Second Street, San Francisco, CA 94105 (415) 495-2992
Store Hours: Mon.-Fri. 9:00-6:00; Sat. 10:00-5:00; Sun. Closed