Independent bookstores have faced tough times for quite a while. In San Francisco, neighborhood businesses have been passionately protected, so it’s hard to believe that an initiative passed by voters to raise the minimum wage is driving a Mission District bookstore out of business.
San Francisco’s minimum wage is currently $11.05 an hour. By July of 2018, the minimum wage in San Francisco will be $15 an hour. That increase is forcing Borderlands Bookstore to write its last chapter now.
When actor Scott Cox took a job at Borderlands Books he didn’t do it for the money.
“I’ve been a longtime customer of the store,” he said. “I love the people, I love the books.”
The work let him squeak by while nourishing his passion for sci-fi and fantasy.
“Everyone who works here does this because they love books, they love stories, and they love being booksellers,” said book store owner Alan Beatts.
That’s why store owner Beatts found it so tough to post a sign in the front window that the store is closing. “We’re going to be closing by the end of March,” he said.
Borderlands was turning a small profit, about $3,000 last year. Then voters approved a hike in the minimum wage, a gradual rise from $10.75 up to $15 an hour.
“And by 2018 we’ll be losing about $25,000 a year,” he said.
It’s an unexpected plot twist for loyal customers.
“You know, I voted for the measure as well, the minimum wage measure,” customer Edward Vallecillo said. “It’s not something that I thought would affect certain specific small businesses. I feel sad.”
Though it’s caught a lot of people off guard, one group that wasn’t completely surprised was the Board of Supervisors. In fact, they say they debated this very topic before sending the minimum wage to the voters.
“I know that bookstores are in a tough position, and this did come up in the discussions on minimum wage,” San Francisco supervisor Scott Wiener said.
Wiener knows a lot of merchants will pass the wage increases on to their customers, but not bookstores.
“I can’t increase the prices of my products because books, unlike many other things, have a price printed on them,”
Wiener says it’s the will of the voters. Seventy-seven percent of them voted for this latest wage hike.
“Borderlands Books is an phenomenal bookstore, I was just in it yesterday,” Wiener said. “I hope they don’t close. It’s an amazing resource.”
But Alan Beatts said he can’t see a way to avoid it.
Independent bookstores have a paper thin profit margin, with the greatest expenses involving labor, rent and product.
Doubling the labor costs of any small business is probably enough to capsize it.