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Adobe Books still in business

Flickr user Sharon Drummond

This past January, Adobe Books in San Francisco’s Mission District was on the verge of going out of business. It had been in the community for decades and this seemed like another sign of the great changes taking place in the neighborhood. KALW’s Holly McDede visited the store and brought back this story.

Walking through the aisles, Adobe doesn’t feel like a store, but  more like a house with a whole lot of books. Sleepers and minglers got cozy on red velvet sofas. An old can of spinach soup rests on one of the shelves. It seems that McKinley isn’t a fan of alphabetizing, and instead organizes most of his books by putting this one here, the other over there, or maybe there. In 2004, San Francisco artist Chris Cobb reorganized the store’s 20,000+ inventory by color.

As I linger near the register, I realize McKinley knows almost everyone who comes into the store by name.

“The Carters, great to see you!” McKinley says to one group.

“Stay out of prison!” He jokes with another customer and introduces me to a napping regular, Swan. Hopefully he has plans to move into another bookstore when Adobe goes.

McKinley founded Adobe with his business partner Bryan Bilby in 1989. The two decided to carry art books to give the many Mission artists something to read. By 2001, McKinley transformed the store’s storage space into the Adobe Books Backroom Gallery.

McKinley says the requirements for artists were few: “They had the work, they wanted to show it, so they'd hang it, they'd promote it. They'd party.”

Bilby was appalled that so many books were put in danger of spilled drinks. But the gallery helped several unknown artists, including Chris Johanson, rise to fame. It served as a fertile ground for Mission School artists, known for their use of graffiti and sharpies on the Mission’s streets.

“I've always liked the people more than the books,” McKinley admitted. Beat poet Jack Jack Michelin as well as Matt Gonzalez, Ralph Nader’s running mate in the 2008 election, were known to kick it at Adobe.

The art scene that made Adobe relevant in the neighborhood eventually made the Mission trendy and, unfortunately for many artists, unaffordable. When artists stopped being able to afford rent, many weren't able to afford buying books, either.

Will Adobe really close? Yeah, probably. There are a few options for salvation, and none McKinley likes.

“Somebody else could probably do very well here selling who knows what,” McKinley said. “Maybe tacos. Have you been to Tacolicious? Liquor would be a good thing. If I had a liquor license, I would probably be doing fine.”

But he just wants to sell used books, and that’s what’s getting him.

“I guess I'm just old-fashioned,” McKinley confesses. “Am I old? Am I tired? I've not adapted that well to the modern age. I can barely type. I can't type, really. It's just a different world, and a world that is now becoming a part of the past.”

This past March, fans of Adobe Books led a successful indiegogo campaign that raised more than $60,000 to save the bookstore. The store did move from 16th to 24th street and is now owned by a collective known as the Adobe Books and Art Cooperative.

This story originally aired on July 31, 2012.