There’s a new bookstore in town, or at least a newly owned bookstore. After ditching a career in what she terms “corporate America,” Gina Davidson has taken over the former Analog Books at 1816 Euclid Ave., a stone’s throw from the Cal campus.
With a fresh stock of books and a stylish makeover, Bookish has been up and running under Davidson’s direction for about six months. Davidson — a novice at bookselling — says she is hoping Berkeley’s famously book-friendly community will support the business and help her fulfill her dream of running a bookstore.
It’s something Davidson has been thinking about for some time: while she was holding down senior jobs at companies like Motorola and PayPal, she would also surreptitiously be perusing Craigslist for available bookstores, and her eyes would light up when she found one. She remembers seeing two listings, one in Sebastopol and the other in Castro Valley, before spotting the ad for the Berkeley lease.
It took the death of a friend for her to take a leap of faith, however. “That was an impetus,” Davidson said recently in the pocket-sized Northside store. “I didn’t want to look back and say, ‘What if?'” The fact that Davidson’s husband joked he would leave her if she didn’t grab the opportunity after years ruminating about it may also have played a part.
Unlike its predecessors, Bookish focuses on new rather than used books, but there is also a section for first editions, rare books and collectibles, and one area dedicated to books about Berkeley and its history. Davidson has also sourced an appealing selection of greeting cards, stationery and small gifts.
Analog Books, a fixture for Cal students and faculty in particular, operated for seven years before it closed in June 2012. More recently, the store was run for about seven months as Bookish, also selling mostly second-hand books, but the owner handed over the lease to Davidson after deciding she wanted to focus on her health.
Davidson concedes she has had a steep learning curve when it comes to understanding the business of book publishing. But her naïveté has also had its benefits, she said. Aware of the glut of wonderful authors on her doorstep, she has simply gotten in touch with them directly and has found several of them to be generous with their time.
A Cal student in the store was raving about Love and Math, for instance, a book by the well-known UC Berkeley math professor and bestselling author Edward Frenkel. So Davidson emailed him. Frenkel replied: “Sure, I’ll come in and do a reading.” While Berkeleyside was visiting Bookish, one of the two “excellent” grad students from the nearby Graduate Theological Union that Davidson has hired to help her, mentioned that Berkeley writer Michael Pollan had said he would also try to drop by.
“It’s such a fabulous area to have a bookstore,” Davidson said. “Students, professors, rabbis, philosophers, neighbors and their kids — they all come in.” She said she has been made to feel welcome, and customers, some of them very erudite, are always suggesting books for her to stock. “I thought I was well-read, but it’s very humbling talking to some customers,” she said.
Other booksellers have also been supportive with guidance and tips, Davidson said, including Marion Abbott and Ann Leyhe at Mrs. Dalloway’s in Berkeley, and a good friend of Davidson’s who inherited Klindt’s bookstore in Oregon.
The newly minted bookstore owner is putting the finishing touches to the shop’s décor — a mix of bright pastel colors and retro graphics, she is building up a kids’ section, and is booking more author visits. On July 1 Bookish kicks off a Where’s Waldo summer event that sees the store partnering with over 20 other Berkeley businesses, including Berkeley Ace Hardware, Menchies Yogurt, and Peet’s. Kids can pick up a passport at the bookstore then set out to find little Where’s Waldo cut-outs at the different participating stores where they will get their passport stamped. “At the end of the month we will have a big party at Bookish for them,” Davidson explained. (For details, visit Bookish on Facebook.)
As to her vision, Davidson said: “I want to be the one-stop corner bookshop where everyone wants to hang out.”
Davidson is all too aware of the Herculean task ahead of her to make a tiny, independent bookstore a business success story. However she takes heart from recent statistics from the American Booksellers Association that show that the number of indie bookstores in the U.S. has grown 19.3 percent, from 1,651 to 1,971, since 2009.
She also believes in the significance of the store’s location. “If I can’t make a bookstore work here in Berkeley, all is lost,” she said with a smile.
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