Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Can Sponsorship Save Small Bookstores?

Earlier this month, Alan Beatts, the owner of a science-fiction bookstore in San Francisco’s Mission District, announced that a minimum-wage increase recently passed by the city’s voters, from less than eleven dollars an hour last year to fifteen dollars an hour by 2018, was going to put him out of business. Not long afterward, I met Beatts at his shop, Borderlands Books, and he seemed utterly defeated; Borderlands is barely profitable, and the minimum-wage increase would all but guarantee the store a significant loss.
The difference was too large to make up for by reducing other costs, like rent or utility bills. In a piece on Borderlands’s closure, I wrote that, while Beatts planned to hold a meeting to hear thoughts from customers about how he might keep his store open, he doubted that it would bring to the surface any usable ideas.
By the time the meeting came around, on February 12th, Beatts’s announcement had gone viral. To those who oppose higher minimum wages, it was a vindication: if a business owner in a liberal city like San Francisco was upset about a minimum-wage increase, it must be bad. To those who support minimum-wage increases, Beatts was cast as a traitor to the cause. Concerned that some of his critics might show up at the meeting to heckle him, he asked a friend who planned to attend, and also happened to be a cop, to keep an eye out, in case anyone got aggressive.

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