Badger Books on Cortland Will Close, Permanently



Last year, the bookstore long known as Red Hill Books was briefly shuttered, then refocused and reopened with a  new name: Badger Books. Alas, it seems the transformation did not succeed in reversing the store’s fortunes. Now there are For Rent signs in the windows, a sale is underway, and Neighbor Karen has learned the sad news that Badger Books will be gone at the end of the month:

Badger Books is closing for good at the end of February. The owner is transferring books and employees to her other stores. She hopes to rent the space (see sign in window) either to a business or individual. The employee I spoke to said, “We’re just not making enough money.” Bernal can support fancy restaurants and umpteen nail salons and multiple hardware stores but not a single independent bookstore? So depressing.

When Bernalwood’s Cub Reporter (age 6) was informed about the planned closure she said, “Whaaat? Oh poop. I love that place.”

PHOTO: Telstar Logistics

50 thoughts on “Badger Books on Cortland Will Close, Permanently

  1. So sad to see Badger/Red Hill go… I agree with your sentiments exactly – unbelievable that we can’t support this wonderful business well enough to keep them here and practicing the art of selling books in person. I hope we all stop in and show them our support before they close both with our words and our actions (buy a book!).

    • I think it’s much more likely that digital books are easier and more convenient than paper books. Nothing whatsoever to do with ‘overpriced dining’.

  2. I’ve gone in there a few times and never come out with anything, and that was before they focused on children’s books. I guess their curation and my tastes don’t overlap. I hate to see any bookstore close down, but my understanding is that these folks run 2 other bookstores in SF (Dog Eared on Valencia and Alley Cat on lower 24th), so they’re probably focusing on their more profitable locations.

    I would love to see a store on Cortland with a really nice magazine selection, like that place on 24th in Noe. Big magazine selection, well curated but small book section, and a small vinyl record section. That would probably be too hipster tho, huh 🙂

  3. Sad to see another bookstore go away but I found the selection a bit sparse. Foot traffic on Cortland probably couldn’t support a larger inventory like Books Inc on Chestnut with wall to wall people.
    The music lover has already long come to grips with the death of the record store. Aquarius and Amoeba are our last hopes.
    For those who think people don’t read books anymore, you might have heard of these devices called Kindles and iPads. /snark

  4. This makes me so very sad! I have loved having a bookstore in the neighborhood and shop there as much as possible….There has got to be away to keep a center for ideas alive in our neighborhood!

  5. I imagine it is hard to run a book store (no matter where you are located) today. So many people use kindles and iPads. Having a bookstore on the same street as a library must be even more difficult. I loved bringing my kids to Badger Books and we will really miss our trips to Thursdays story time. I don’t think their closing has anything to do with restaurants, though. That seems like a bit of a leap. I think it’s a tough location for a book store in a time that all book stores are having difficulty. Can we for once not turn this into a gentrification problem? A great book store is closing and that is it. I don’t think any of the “evil” techies that are “destroying” our city are at fault here 😉

  6. We had an idea that Badger was going to include in their remodel some exhibition space for Art and also a dedicated space for regular children’s art classes and projects. We are very sorry
    they are closing and wish the Owner and kind Staff all the best! Toby and Joe

    • Yes– please! But one that is curated in more compelling ways than this Badger thing; even Red Hill was much preferable.

  7. Sorry to see such an appealing shop close down, but like 4 Star Video they specialize in a medium whose content has moved to the virtual world. Succulence was successfully launched out of 4 Star, I hope another attractive business will bloom in the former Badger Books.

  8. It seems to me, if it can be ordered on line, that’s what is now done. In that sense, it is technology that is driving the loss of book stores everywhere.
    We still have drinks, food, manicures and the like because they can’t be delivered thru Amazon or whatever equivalent.
    There’s a pleasure for me to be had in a frequenting a local store like Badger Books. Too bad it’s closing. But then, I find a qualitative difference in a printed versus downloaded book.
    FYI: There’s Bird and Beckett, great store with books and live music, in Glen Park. And several other book stores along 24th Street, east of Mission.

    • I’m sorry to hear that. Although I’ve never actually bought a book online because of this reason, I wasn’t a customer here because of the awesome Bird and Beckett a bit closer to me. You can “order online” from them by sending them the Amazon link and then pick up the book later or have it shipped. Friday night music and all kinds of other events.

  9. Times have changed and bookstores have a hard time adapting. Luckily the owner has hit on the one formula that seems to work at her other stores, Phoenix and Dog Eared: a mix of new and used, and a placement so that the really cheap books are out front and the higher priced ones are toward the back in subject-intensive sections.

    For me, I hadn’t set foot inside since her regrouping a few years ago. This was because she positioned the store as focusing on children’s books; since I have no children I have no need to visit the store. When it was a general interest store I’d visit from time to time, but I’ll admit that my book purchasing choices are esoteric and few bookstores ever have what I want.

  10. Sad to see Badger Books leave Cortland Ave, but in the 13 years living in the neighborhood only bought books from there twice. Their selection is a bit odd; whereas I always manage to find something at Dog Eared & Alley Cat. Good luck on the new adventure.
    Hopefully, something worthwhile will go into the space. However, no more nail/hair salons, corner/liquor stores, coffee shops, bakeries; there’s only so many one street can handle. Time to upgrade.
    Bird & Beckett is fantastic. Been shopping there for the past 13 years; every time I find something to purchase; either a book or a record; love the performances.

  11. That is a real shame, I would agree it’s a very challenging environment for a brick & mortar book seller these days, what will emerge from this prime corner retail spot?? I for one am always excited to see what new ventures appear in our little dominion – a furniture/ interiors store perhaps given all the recent million dollar homes selling in the 94110 zip? Or I see a real gap in the market for a good kids hair salon I think would be a real welcome addition for many of the families w kidlings in our area

    • I was also a regular customer. I made it a point to order with them because I wanted to put my money where my values are. I am so sad about this closing. I do not give three rocks for Cortland’s artisanal tea shop or for ANOTHER coffee shop. I CARE about bookstores and I think their survival is important.

  12. To lose a bookstore goes along with losing a social institution (and maybe even a social movement), and it is indeed curious about what kinds of institutions that people (however they are grouped) will value enough to support. I think a restaurant closing is somewhat different–a more individual loss that can come about for countless reasons, and restaurants in the city, while many close, are not becoming extinct.

    And I bet many more people have stronger opinions about a now rarely-discussed mural on a library’s face (a project that, in the end, affects virtually no one’s existence) than losing the only bookstore (an actual destination, a real place) in the immediate neighborhood. To read the past comments on Bernalwood about the mural on the library, one would think that the end of the old painting and adoption of a new visual was the start (or the end) of a revolution, enough to battle to the death for. Some posited it as a battle of old vs. new, but it was not even that. It was what kind of paint do you want on your library, and how much are you willing to yell and lobby for it?

    But a bookstore leaving? Shrug. About a mile north, on 24th St, the moved Modern Times may also close, having recently (I believe) fallen far short of a goal to raise money through a kickstarter campaign. Like a bookstore with a so-called narrow selection–though Badger Books’ selection was much wider than it initially advertised it, if one would take a look inside–a shop with a very pronounced political and social agenda may also not win enough popular support. There, too, was a “foot traffic” issue, sadly, since moving from Valencia to almost anywhere in this area will create a want of feet, but what was really there was the change of the times, not just the location.

    Meanwhile, it was recently reported (by a “newspaper” in SF, though we know we don’t really have one of those) that a kickstarter campaign to refurbish those “dog statues” (rescued) from the old restaurant along CC and Mission was successful. (I am sure someone can help me out with a link to a past post on this very blog about those historical relics.) I mean, they are interesting in some ways, I suppose, and they are helped by their uniqueness; even online, you can’t find them, but you also wouldn’t want to. It’s not a supply and demand issue, or a preference about shopping. But whether a bookstore or a sculpture (or a mural, I guess), their life will depend on what people want in their lives, what they want to stick around for their kids, their friends, themselves, and whoever comes later than them.

    So I think the question is: “Who wants what in the world?” And when enough people decide they want to keep something, it can possibly be kept. And if not enough people want to keep something–and it may just be one person’s desire at first–the result may be different.

  13. Will miss you Red Hill/Badger. Really, really miss you. Glad the other locations are still running. (Did I hear Phoenix also closed??? oh no)

    I have a hard time attributing this to Bernal priorities. The other locations have larger corridors with steadier foot-traffic. Other businesses on Cortland carry less inventory, have higher per unit margins, and/or rely on family as staff. Anybody who talks to the merchants knows that there’s been plenty of struggles up and down Cortland as part of the recession.

    Amazon is simply eating bookstores. The biggest bookstores in the world have already shuddered. Many local venerable independents have too (Stacey’s, Different Light). Such is business. I believe Main street adapts. I sure hope so anyway.

    Personally, I both buy and borrow; use both digital and paper. They all have their advantages. Having them all just means I read more and that my Daughter has a wider selection – and I hope there’s a way for all these things to still co-exist.

    We’ll raise a glass for you, Badger. Long live Dog-Eared and Alley-Cat!

    • It’s interesting that according to: — They had this from the owner:

      “Dog Eared Books is profitable and will remain on Valencia St. Likewise, Badger Books on Cortland and Alley Cat books on lower 24th St are also doing well. But they all take up much of her time and as Kate put it: “The fact of the matter is, I have an 8 year old daughter, and I don’t want to miss her childhood.”

      So Kate is looking to simplify. “

      Folio books took over the Phoenix location, so perhaps we’ll see someone move into the Bernal location. The location might have been profitable but at the same time not making enough money to make it worth the owners while, especially with what she said above about wanting to spend more time with her kid.

  14. I’m “Neighbor Karen” and I did not say that restaurants are pushing out the bookstore. Nor did I say anything about “techies” (FFS I’m married to one). My point was that we’re able to support multiple versions of the same thing — pizzerias, nail salons, hardware stores — but not this one singular place. (Owning a book is different from borrowing it.) I agree the remodel was ill-advised. I too love Bird & Beckett, Dog-Eared, and Alley Cat. None of them is in my neighborhood. And I used to work in book publishing, so I understand all too well the pressures on bookstores. Yet good ones do survive, and I thought this was one of them.

  15. This is indeed sad news. We shop there often. However, the re-do was puzzling. The store was much better when it was Red Hill. More inventory, etc. When I went there last week to buy kids’ books in Spanish, the person working seemed puzzled by my request and could not turn up any such books for school-age kids. With so many kids in the ‘hood in Spanish Immersion schools, you would think they would carry books to fit the bill. In any case, very sad. Hopefully we’ll not get another cafe or bakery!

    • It’s funny–or ironic–that another cafe or bakery would be real overkill for Cortland now, whereas just a few years ago the niche was there for the taking (and it was taken!). Imagine how many people in SF still would be overjoyed to have a locally run place near them to buy fresh bread and sweet pastries (we don’t have to look any further than most parts of Bayview).

      I think that the “revamp” of the bookstore was over-billed in an attempt to try to cater to what the owners felt that the “community wants”–books for kids. (They may want books for kids, but it does not follow that they will go there and buy them.) I believe that they also gave careful consideration to this “redirection,” garnering opinions from the neighborhood. But sometimes the tea leaves end up meaning something different.

      Still, the vast majority of inventory was for adults, and it was not *so much more* inviting for youngsters than the previous version of the shop. But if you say you are a certain kind of establishment, I agree (with Ellen) that your staff has to be knowledgeable enough to provide a level of competence that fulfills a stated mission.

      The store actually seemed less inviting overall–to everyone, regardless of age–than Red Hill. My experience there was that whoever was at the front desk was busy with some task and unable to look me in the eye, or acknowledge me much at all when I bought about a dozen books there a few months ago. (Okay, they were from the discount bin, but still.)

      Besides its loss of charm across the board, the store also may have “suffered” from being so close to a place where you can get books for free–the library–where you can check out items for months (long enough to satiate some repetition-prone kids who clamor for the same book night after night). Libraries, which are so often under siege when the economy struggles, are indeed a resource that must be kept thriving when times are the hardest. Of course, the choice here–to allow bookstores to remain viable businesses–is to close the libraries, and just make sure the union workhouses are still bustling, and the prisons.

      • Yes, it’s pretty basic. The owners did not know how to run a bookstore. Poor selection, poor remodeling choices, uninterested and uninformed staff.

        Why is the closing such a big surprise?

      • Man, noemonkey, I’m curious.. do you ever get tired of being so wrong all the time? I mean, doesn’t it get boring being so completely incorrect about pretty much everything? It seems like it would old, but, I guess, different strokes for different folks and all that.

      • Mr Vegetable: Actually, don’t you get tired of dismissing every opinion that is contrary to yours here? You should learn to be more open minded.

      • See my previous message where the owner said that she was scaling back her book store empire to spend more time with her kid. When you own several stores, and some make more money than others, and you don’t have enough time to run them all and have your life as well, well it makes sense to sell or shutdown the ones with the worst return.

      • Also, that’s DR. Vegetable. I didn’t go to vegetable school for eight years to be called “Mr.” by the likes of you.

  16. I’m back to “you get what you pay for, and where you pay for it.” We’ve let 3 bookstores go on Cortland. None of them were supported to the point where they could meet rent and payroll.
    Locals (hipsters or not) plunk down more for their main course than they will for a book. People who buy books online (e-book or print) will have online bookstores — but nothing local in their community. It’s “cheaper” — but if you stop paying a store’s rent and staff (and that’s the price difference between print and e-books) then you won’t have local stores and employed neighbors. That’s a bargain? THAT makes people feel good about how they spend their money?
    More money goes into restaurants because there’s nowhere else left to meet. The influx of money into SF is doing so little good, in part, because so much (most?) of the consumer spending is going online. Why bother to walk to a store for a lamp or a light bulb when you can click a button online? Who needs or wants local stores? Human interaction is so last century. Who wants people when they have Siri?….

  17. Sad. We went in quite a bit, but tended to get our books from the library.

    My dream for the space (or similar sized space on Cortland) is a craft store, with a diversity of classes for kids and adults (novices and experienced crafters), books and magazines for crafters/makers, and some craft supplies. If I didn’t have a great job already, I’d try it! Not sure if it would pan out, but it would be a great resource for the community – a place to get together and be creative, regardless of age or skill level.

  18. It is my recollection that when the remodel occurred, Kate (the owner) originally had a different vision for the space – more like the 331 market place in that there were multiple independent businesses operating out of a shared retail space – but she received a lot of negative feedback about the idea. In retrospect, perhaps she shouldn’t have listened and should have just gone ahead with her original plan. If anyone is reading these comments and thinking about doing something with the space, keep in mind that there will always be naysayers! It is important to look at and listen to the needs of the community, but you can’t please everyone.

    • Agreed. I see a lot of comments on this blog that start with, “The last thing we need is another (fill-in-the-blank).” Why not let the entrepreneurs run the type of business that they have a passion and aptitude for and let the market decide? I think that it’s great that multiple options for like products and services exist within the realm of our ‘hood. I’m sorry to hear that the bookstore is closing though. I read a lot, but I no longer care for physical books. I just don’t have the space to keep them.

  19. i shopped there somewhat regularly and even though they had a kids book section, it was not even one quarter or even an eighth of the store. they had a selection of at least 10 or 12 genres of books and a magazine stand with a small but eclectic selection.

    i’m very sad to see badger books close, they have a nice space and atmosphere and comfortable chairs to sit and browse through books. it is definitely a loss for the neighborhood

    i know everyone orders from amazon, but i think sometimes you need a book right then and there and not wait 2 days for it to be delivered. i am not addicted to amazon enough to pay for their prime service to have my gratification instantly

  20. A Very Short History of Used Book Stores on Cortland:

    Early 1980’s Henry Hollander opened Buffet Flat Books and lived in the room in the back. This was in what is now the plumbing shop below Brown Bear Realty. He was a transplant from Brooklyn–I once took a picture of him with his parents in front of the shop when they came to visit.
    He finally had to move to Valencia Street in the late 80’s and eventually became an antiquarian dealer in Judaica.
    1990’s {?} Rachel Pepper opens her Red Hill bookstore where the glass shop was and is now Badger. She too had to give up after a valiant struggle..
    The Dog Ear conglomerate buys and occupies Red Hill and eventually morphs it into Badger. Yet another valiant struggle against the tide of history.

    There should be a bronze plaque in the Cortland sidewalk to Henry Hollander for his crazy wisdom in opening a literary bookshop in what was a drug infested neighborhood.

    • “Antiquarian dealer in Judaica”! Interesting, thank you. Whatever the Badger space becomes, sounds like it will have good spirit behind it.

  21. well maybe if they didn’t give so much grief for using credit card or atm card, they would have done better business. I’ve lived in Bernal for 13 years and love buying books but the dirty looks and straight up rudeness experienced when buying something on a card (due to the transaction fee) made it a really awful experience.

    • The fees for small businesses are gross. You wouldn’t believe it. Bookstores make very little as it is on book…..just saying

  22. Pingback: Rumor Report: Gourmet Food Store Coming to Former Red Hill Books Space | Bernalwood

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