Red Hill Bookstore Will Close (But Won’t Go Away)

One of the greatest charms of Cortland Avenue is the way Bernal’s commercial district feels adrift in time — a 1940s vision of Main Street USA, but with much better food and electric bicycles.

There’s definitely some truth to that impression, but it is a fragile illusion. Cortland feels adrift in time, but it is not immune to larger forces of change. Those forces recently claimed the venerable Four Star Video, and today we learned that they will also take the much-loved Red Hill Books.

Yet much like Four Star, we learn that Red Hill will half-disappear, and half-evolve into something new. Red Hill Books manager Jeremy Hatch explains:

I wanted to share with you all the sign we just put in our window, which I’ve included in full below. But to summarize: unfortunately, we’ve come to the reluctant conclusion that we can no longer sustain a full, general-interest bookstore here in Bernal, but we love the neighborhood too much to leave, so we’re going to try something new. We’re planning to close down Red Hill Books per se at the end of the year, and in January, transform the space into a sort of co-op similar to 331 Cortland. We’ll remain as one of the businesses in the co-op — we’re planning to open a new store, focused on children and young readers, in our part of the space. This (a children’s store) is something we’ve been talking about doing for a long time, so we’re excited to give it a try! We’re planning to call the new store Chickadee.

Right now, we’re just starting the search for interested business people to join us. We’ve gotten a few informal proposals, but we’re looking for more, and I’m hoping you’ll highlight that on the blog. Our minds are open, and we’re willing to enter into short term agreements (of say 3 months) just to test things out.

Here are additional details, as described in the sign that’s now in the window of Red Hill Books:

Dearest neighbors:

First of all: we’re not leaving!

However, we do need to change what we’re doing. We’ve had increasing financial difficulty over the past few years and we can’t continue the way we have been. We love Bernal as much as you do, though, and we want to stick around, so we’re planning to transform ourselves after the New Year in two ways: first, we’re going to become more focused on children’s books and events; second, we want to create a co-op-type space like 331, with several other small businesses. Here are the details on each idea:


We’ve noticed that, with the growing numbers of young families here on the Hill, our strongest category of sales, day in and day out, is books for children and young readers. So we’ve decided to take the hint and try something we’ve been contemplating for a long time anyway: create a store with a focus on books and other products for children and parents. We’re thinking of calling it Chickadee.

There are a few things you should know about this transition:

  • At this time, we plan to continue to stock a small selection of adult books – we’ll definitely have the latest best sellers, parenting books, and some periodicals, for example — but we’ll be using the same distributor as we do now, and we’ll remain connected to our sister stores, Phoenix Books, Dog Eared Books, and Alley Cat Books, so you will be able to order any title you want from us.
  • We’re working on a nice website where you will be able to order books from us online, at your convenience. Beyond new books, we’re talking about bringing our entire catalog of sale books online as well. And we also plan to offer direct home delivery of your orders within Bernal Heights.
  • If you have store credit, that credit will continue to be honored here and at our sister stores.
  • All Bernal Bucks earned at Red Hill will be honored at Chickadee
  • If you’re interested in trading more books here, you should be aware that through the end of 2012 we’re going to be selective about the adult titles we take – recent best-sellers and titles we know the other stores could use. For Chickadee, we’ll mostly be interested in children’s books.


Chickadee won’t require as much space as we have today, so, inspired by the example of 331 Cortland, we’re planning to share our building with other small businesses — we are looking for proposals, and our minds are open. (Of course, your idea would have to work well with a kids-oriented bookstore.) If you have an idea, or know someone who might, please talk to us!

PHOTO: Telstar Logistics

26 thoughts on “Red Hill Bookstore Will Close (But Won’t Go Away)

  1. Seriously bummed – we were so excited when they opened but I suppose the writing was on the wall from the beginning. Good for them for trying to still make a go of it though.


  2. Oh geez, that is terrible! One of the things I like most about Bernal Heights is having such a great local resource like this. I guess I’ll have to trek further afield to Dog-Eared now. Bummer.

  3. God, this is so frustrating! I’ve often gone out of my way to buy stuff at Red Hill Books because I was so glad to have them in the area. I will miss them.

    • Hear hear!! I’ve been saying that for years and have actually approached Pharmaca a few years ago (when the corner floral shop close — replaced by State Farm office). The response I got sounded like someone might’ve actually scouted the neighborhood, but without a viable spot to set up shop…

      • Concur! It would be so nice not to have to go to Walgreen’s for everything.

    • I’m a little late to reply, but we do have a non-chain pharmacy in bernal. It’s called A&G pharmacy on the corner of cesar and valencia. Er, I suppose since it is on the north side of cesar it technically is in the mission…but still, that’s pretty close. It is disgusting inside and the people who work there are gruff, but maybe if they get enough new/young business (to offset their long-standing, ie senior, regulars that appear to be keeping them in business), maybe they’d get enough money to be able to clean up the place?

  4. I never understand why people want anonymous relationships with their supplier of books and music. Sheet music is absurd to buy online, and, somehow, Sunset Music survives still. I work as a music teacher, and vastly prefer being able to look over sheet music before buying than a blind click online. Books you can buy online, but I prefer to go into Red Hill and order the book through them and buy it there. I like having my ‘buyer’ down the street, as I often find that when you have a CONVERSATION with a knowledgeable person, you find a pathway to another interesting item. Amazon does an extremely poor job of suggesting other books to me. Once again, where do the kind of people that work at a bookstore go? Pet shop? I like those kind of people (and I liked the people in the video store and the record stores). Now I don’t get to have conversations about favorite films, music and books with these people at a store. It’s a bad day for civilization and a victory for greed.

  5. I have it on good authority that Red Hill/Chickadee will continue to do any sort of special request book order your heart desires. It’s not quite impulse book shopping, but I have a great track record with them getting my requests within 2 days.

    I also concur with the ANGUISHED SCREAM feeling…

  6. Seems like it’s almost time that me and my lesbian partner, childless by choice, also took the hint and left Maternal Heights. Kids pee all over the family-friendly restaurant bathroom floors and now they’re taking over the only bookstore. Not much left for us here now. Back to Noe Valley?

  7. Our family hasn’t recovered from Four Star’s closing and now THIS?! I am very, very upset. Everyone reading this who used Netfix and Amazon is responsible for the loss of these neighborhood enhancing businesses.

  8. I feel this.

    My mom owned and operated a community-loved children’s bookstore for 20 years. Online competition made it such that when she decided to retire and sell the business, she could not find a buyer.

    And now, with the increasing popularity of e-Readers (e.g. Kindle or iPad)…

    It isn’t a thriving industry, I’m afraid.

  9. Sad. Sad. Sad. Time to go get drunk at the Wild West. I remember reading books to my son at Bernal Books and browsing books with him at Red Hill. I hope Chickadee will invest in shamelessly plugging all our brilliant Bernal children’s book writers and illustrators: Ashley Wolf, Laurie Wigham, et al.

  10. This might be the anguish talking, but isn’t there some way to artificially prop them up somehow? So many of us love having them there — any chance some absurd, highly mockable but ultimately effective subscription service or something could keep things running? Some people pony up for country clubs. I’d pay annual dues to have an awesome bookstore in the hood. I bet homeowners, for starters, could be readily convinced it’s a solid investment…

  11. Ack – have purchased regularly for the last seven years…just bought two new hardbacks THIS WEEK! Glad they are trying to adapt rather than just shutting down… having a local independent bookstore is so wonderful in our neighborhood!

  12. Pingback: Bernalwood 2012: The Year in Superlatives | Bernalwood

  13. I think there’s more going on here. The owner of RedHill has four bookstores, but I think the RH building is the only one she owns, hence, she has flexibility with that building that she doesn’t with her other leased locations. So, if Phoenix in Noe isn’t doing well (and if you’ve been in there recently, it’s barren, and just not interesting anymore, and the rent must be high) she probably has to keep it going until she can renegotiate the lease or get out of it. If she rents part of RedHill, she can get some revenue in the door. Now we can hope fervently that, ultimately, perhaps, Phoenix will relocate to the RedHill space (that was the original intent back in 2004 or something?) and a general-stock indie bookstore will rise in Bernal again! This boutique-y childrens store concept doesn’t do much for me — I’m a general reader and the kids are all grown up, and I prefer my bookstores quiet. Hope they can hang on, but I probably won’t be shopping there.

  14. Pingback: Red Hill Books Closure Sale Underway; Metamorphosis Planned | Bernalwood

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