1985 — Huey Lewis was topping charts, Reagan was president, and Kate Rosenberger and business partner George Kirby Desha made the leap from bookstore employees (at Berkeley's Half Price Books) to bookstore owners. The two planned to open the store in Oakland until a newspaper ad brought them to Noe Valley where the neighborhood’s funky charm immediately won them over.
Phoenix was conceived during a magical time when landlords took chances on people they liked — Kate and George started the store with $10,000, no previous credit history, and a lease sealed with handshake. The store has relocated twice over the years, but after each move, true to its name, has risen again. This is entirely thanks to amazing support from our loyal, book-loving customers. (You guys are the greatest!) Phoenix has been happily settled into its current spot since June 2009.
Kate hatched the idea for Dog Eared in 1992 at a tea party at the beloved Radio Valencia (R.I.P.). Kate picked the store’s original space because a large red heart had been painted on the window. In 1996, it moved it to the larger, sunnier space it currently calls home (formerly a furniture shop called Hocus Pocus) on the corner of 20th.
Like the Mission district it calls home, Dog Eared is wildly eclectic — you'll find anarchist zines next to Vanity Fair, books on Nina Simone next to books on Joy Division, and the poetry of Michelle Tea next to that of Longfellow. The store has become a destination for visitors from around the world eager to peruse its quirky yet extensive stock, including sections devoted to Beat Literature, Noir mysteries, McSweeneys’, sustainable living, and NYRB Classics.
Although Kate moved to Berkeley after the birth of her daughter, Hazel Adele, a few years back, she'd been a Bernal Hill resident for 15 years and had long been in love with the neighborhood. When the building at the corner of Cortland and Bennington became available she jumped at the opportunity to open a new store. In 2003, Red Hill Books was born (the name derives from an old nickname for Bernal, once a hotbed of radicals). Initially tiny, the store nearly tripled in size to accommodate Kate’s grand vision of comprehensively stocked store that could host community events like book clubs, writing groups, and live music.
Never one to rest on her laurels, Kate opened a fourth location in the fall of 2011. Alley Cat Books, on lower 24th Street. It occupies the large, ramshackle space (with multiple skylights!) that used to belong to The Wizard Smoke Shop. The store’s large back room has been turned into an art gallery that showcases local artists and provides space for readings, book clubs, and the occasional open mic. Being in a neighborhood with a large Latin American population and many public murals, the store takes special care to stock Spanish language and visual art books.