Taranto: Expensive Labor Yields Cheap Shelves

“San Francisco’s outstanding, world-beating science fiction bookstore, Borderlands, will shut no later than March 31,” reports BoingBoing.net’s Cory Doctorow:

In an open letter, the owners Alan Beatts and Jude Feldman explain that they can’t pay San Francisco’s new $15 minimum wage (a minimum wage that they support). That increase will raise their payroll costs by 39% and their overall costs by 18%—and since they can’t raise the cost of their books (because they’re pre-priced, and retail priced books are already a tough sell in the age of Amazon), the only way they could cover the increase would be to stop paying themselves, or fire almost everyone and work insane hours. The cafe attached the store will stay open for the foreseeable, since those prices are flexible and can be raised to account for their increased overheads.

It sounds like a hopeless situation, and it’s certainly bad news for bookstores as a category.

It reminds us of Glenn Reynolds’s favorite Heinlein quote:

Throughout history, poverty is the normal condition of man. Advances which permit this norm to be exceeded—here and there, now and then—are the work of an extremely small minority, frequently despised, often condemned, and almost always opposed by all right-thinking people. Whenever this tiny minority is kept from creating, or (as sometimes happens) is driven out of a society, the people then slip back into abject poverty.

This is known as “bad luck.”

But bad luck for Beatts, Feldman and their soon-to-be-erstwhile employees is good luck for you, if you need shelves: “We’re also going to be selling all our shelves and other fixtures. It would make us very happy to know that our hand-built shelves were going to sit in the living room of someone who was a customer of ours and who appreciates their history.”