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    You Can Help Save LGBT-Owned Laurel Book Store in Oakland!

    Members of our team here at the San Francisco Bay Times have been going to the Laurel Book Store for years—first when it was in the Laurel District near Mills College, and then now at its current downtown Oakland location. It is more than just a place to buy books and gift items. We have enjoyed long conversations there with likeminded, welcoming community members. We have stopped by for a moment of peaceful relaxation in the middle of a hectic workday. We’ve attended book readings, family events and much more at this store, which has been a long-time East Bay distribution spot for our always free paper.

    Over the years, we have also run into Laurel Book Store owner Luan Stauss at LGBT and other business networking events. She always takes time for a friendly chat, consistent with the genuine care that she demonstrates both with her store and customers. We were therefore saddened to read of her recent struggles with the business.

    This is not just a problem related solely to bookstores and technology overtaking “dead trees.” (We love trees, are printed on all recycled paper, and humans didn’t evolve to interact with buzzing computer lights and electricity all day, but that’s a story for another time!) Over recent months we have seen the closure of nearby Picán restaurant, which just last year was named one of the top five Black-owned restaurants in Oakland by BBnomics Crowdfunding. Owner Michael LeBlanc, the first African American corporate officer in the history of Polaroid, is a great talent. We miss our time with him and his staff at Picán, and hope he starts a new business in the Bay Area soon. Still other downtown Oakland business are struggling for a variety of reasons that Luan touches on in a letter recently sent to us and to her other customers.

    Please take time to read it and, ideally, to pay a visit to the Laurel Book Store and/or its website (http://www.laurelbookstore.com/). They have tons of LGBT offerings, signed books and much more. Buying through them is a win-win because you get great items while also helping to ensure the success of a local small business that serves as a community hub destination.

    Dear Reader,

    Laurel Book Store is at a crossroad. As my loyal and beloved customers and friends of the store, I want to share with you what brought us here, and the part you can play in determining the direction I take next.

    In October of last year I began looking for a business partner. I spoke with several wonderful people, some serious, some not quite so sure. As of today, the right fit hasn’t come along. I’m now at the end of the initial lease period on this space—good grief 3 years has flown!—and I need to make some difficult decisions.

    All the reasons that I moved the store from the Laurel neighborhood to this big, beautiful space are still true. We got expanded book and gift selections, the convenience of being right on the BART line and at a transit hub, the opportunity to hold more and bigger author events, the chance to showcase local art on the walls each month, the ability to do more school outreach with more staff, and the potential inherent in being where more than 100k people are every single day. Plus, how cool is downtown Oakland?

    When I worked out the financial expectations for the new space, I based my projections on a lot of research into industry standards, along with a bit of faith that Oakland was and is on the rise, getting a lot of attention for all the interesting and unique businesses that seemed to open every week. National media! Downturn in crime! More housing being created!

    All of that is still true today. What’s also true is that there are still challenges in the downtown area, and we haven’t had the number of customers that I’d hoped and planned for. The trajectory has moved consistently in the right direction—we have had quarter over quarter increases nearly all the time we’ve been here. But it’s still not enough to cover all of our operating costs each month.

    Recently, I’ve joined with other downtown retailers, many of whom are also struggling, to see what we can do to create more marketing effective marketing plans. The book store needs to be serving an average of 75 or more customers a day to meet expenses and get ahead, and the number now is well below that. Imagine if even five per cent of the 100,000 workers in downtown offices walked into the store and bought a book, or placed an order online, each month! We’d be bursting at the seams with new releases, staff, programs, and workshops. Instead, each month I have to make tough decisions about what expenses I can cover and how to juggle the rest. And each month I consider what the tipping point will be, and whether to call it a day, or to try harder still.

    I believe in what I’m doing. I believe in Laurel Book Store, and I believe in the Oakland community. I want to stay here in this beautiful space in this exciting location, and continue serving your book needs and more. At the same time, I cannot keep the store open without the community’s participation.

    I am continuing to look for a business partner who can bring energy, resources, and the potential for growth. In the meantime, I need to negotiate a new (one-year) lease, keep the doors open, and continue working to build our customer base.

    I hear you asking, How can I help? The bottom line is that we need to raise $30,000 right now if we are to catch up and move forward with a new lease. We would meet this goal if 750 people spend $100 each in the next two weeks. There are three times that number of people on our email list, and so many more who are not, but who might want to support this independent book store, and I have faith that it can happen. Here’s how you can help:

    • Come in to the store and spend $100 or more (or whatever you can), or buy books on our website for shipping, pickup, or delivery to Café 3016 or downtown. What have you wanted to read? What gift giving opportunities are coming up?
    • Alert your networks, and ask everyone you know to support the store too. Post, tweet, Instagram—whatever floats your social media boat. There’s some suggested language below for a post, or you can link to this letter on our website.

    If we can’t sell enough books to meet this goal, the likelihood is that the store will close at this location. If we can mobilize an army of folks who love books and value independent local merchants, Laurel Book Store can continue to be at the heart of this vibrant downtown Oakland community. Please help spread the word.

    We treasure our customers, and we thank you for everything you do. 

    As usual, I have a few books to tell you about this week too. 

    Take care of each other and happy reading,

    Luan