San Francisco’s Borderlands Books is one of those places people say they love. It’s a bookstore in the Mission District specializing in speculative fiction, and it has endured through rent increases, online retailing, e-books, and the recession. Last year was the company’s most successful year ever, which indicates that they were serving their public well enough to please everyone. They were a feel-good story, an indie bookseller that knew its niche and was holding their own against the behemoths.
But they couldn’t hold on against the electorate. You see, the people of The City decided to impose a higher minimum wage, and as is usually the case, actions have consequences. Borderlands is going out of business at the end of March:
The change in minimum wage will mean our payroll will increase roughly 39%. That increase will in turn bring up our total operating expenses by 18%. To make up for that expense, we would need to increase our sales by a minimum of 20%. We do not believe that is a realistic possibility for a bookstore in San Francisco at this time.
The other obvious alternative to increasing sales would be to decrease expenses. The only way to accomplish the amount of savings needed would be to reduce our staff to: the current management (Alan Beatts and Jude Feldman), and one other part-time employee. Alan would need to take over most of Jude’s administrative responsibilities and Jude would work the counter five to six days per week. Taking all those steps would allow management to increase their work hours by 50-75% while continuing to make roughly the same modest amount that they make now (by way of example, Alan’s salary was $28,000 last year). That’s not an option for obvious reasons and for at least one less obvious one — at the planned minimum wage in 2018, either of them would earn more than their current salary working only 40 hours per week at a much less demanding job that paid minimum wage.
So, it’s goodbye to what had been something of a success story. Now it’s worth noting that the management say they support the principle of a living wage, and are even open to the idea that the law may ultimately benefit San Francisco, but it’s hard to see how the government’s squashing the sort of places folks say they want (by voting with their dollars) is a good thing. The facts of business remain in place: Income must exceed outgo for a business to endure.
And since it’s an SF bookstore, might I suggest some appropriate reading? There might be a lesson in there somewhere.