| June 2011
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By Tim Innes
Customers Rachel Popson and Joanna Cappola (right) snap up bargains from Diane Kudisch, whose San Francisco Mystery Bookstore will be closing in mid-June. Photo by Pamela Gerard
Noe Valley is losing another bookstore.
Just three months after the abrupt closure of Cover to Cover Booksellers, the San Francisco Mystery Bookstore—a fixture on Upper 24th Street for 37 years—is about to sell its last whodunit. The end will come on June 15.
The store’s demise will leave the neighborhood with just two booksellers: Phoenix Books on 24th Street and Omnivore Books on Church. It also will leave Northern California with only one store specializing in mysteries: San Mateo’s M Is for Mystery.
Tempting as it is to blame the usual suspects—a sluggish economy and changes in the way people buy books—the story can be traced to more mundane matters. Proprietor Diane Kudisch is closing up shop so landlord Fred Meyer, whose family has owned the property at 4175 24th St. since 1900, can renovate the time-worn building. During the six months Meyer gave her to vacate, Kudisch considered moving but decided the time had come to begin a new chapter in her life—selling books online.
“Since [the Meyers] have been so very generous over the years,” she wrote in an email announcing the closure, “I know finding a place which has such a low rent would be next to impossible.”
Kudisch, who bought the store from founder Bruce Taylor a decade ago, said in an interview that while “I’m really going to miss my customers, I’m looking forward to having Saturdays off. Except for times when I’ve been away, I’ve worked every Saturday for the last 10 years.”
The irony of going over to the dark side—the Internet is the independent bookseller’s bÉte noir—is not lost on Kudisch. Still, she believes she can give customers better service than a faceless online retailer like Amazon.com. She has hooked up with a publisher in Britain who will supply her with “amazing novels by amazing authors” heretofore unavailable in the United States. She said she looks forward to introducing readers “to new and interesting series” in the mystery world.
Kudisch, who previously worked for a reinsurance firm, said she had no experience running a bookstore but had long been a fan of mysteries when she took over for Taylor in 2001. Favorite writers include Noe Valley’s Cara Black, Britons Peter Robinson and Deborah Crombie, and the American mother-son team known as Charles Todd.
Over the years, she invited many local and nationally known authors to do book signings at the store. A reading by British author Lauren Henderson attracted some 60 fans, predominantly young, hip, and female, who spilled out onto the sidewalk to meet Henderson and hear excerpts from one of her Scarlett Wakefield procedurals. Black drew enthusiastic crowds whenever she unveiled a new Aimée Leduc Investigations mystery.
“It’s so sad,” said Black, in ruing the loss. “You’d hope that small, independent bookstores could find a niche.”
The Mystery Bookstore did have a niche, becoming a destination for fans of the genre from all over the Bay Area. Taylor, who was partial to Raymond Chandler novels like The Long Goodbye, The Big Sleep, and Farewell, My Lovely, moved the business from its original site in a cramped storefront at 24th and Diamond to the present location in 1995.
The added space allowed him, and later Kudisch, to stock and display more books and maintain longer hours. Still, the fact that many visitors to 24th Street never venture more than 100 feet west of Castro Street remained a challenge.
Like Black, David Lazarus, a mystery buff who once reviewed whodunits for the San Francisco Chronicle, lamented the closure, calling the store “a genuine treasure for those of sleuthing and thriller bent. Best of all, it’s the kind of place where you [could] mention something you’ve recently read, and…get a recommendation for something even better.”
Kudisch was wistful in her goodbye to her brick-and-mortar customers in May: “I have loved my 10-plus years here, having the most fun spending time with customers, turning them on to amazing books....”
She said many of her loyal following had dropped by the store, bringing flowers and candy or treats for Duncan, her 5year-old Bassett-Pointer mix.
But she herself is not leaving Noe Valley. Kudisch, who lives just down the block from the store, said you’ll likely see her walking Duncan around the neighborhood, or volunteering at the SPCA’s Adopt-a-Pet booth—now that she’ll have Saturdays free. .
Until closing day in June, the store will be selling off its inventory, at a 50 percent or greater discount. The shop is open Tuesday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.; you can reach Diane Kudisch by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hound of the Baskervilles: Duncan says he’ll miss his comfy chair, but he plans to keep snooping around Noe Valley after the bookstore closes. Photo by Sally Smith
The Mystery Bookstore’s first location was a small cubbyhole on Diamond Street, but for the past 16 years the shop has lived at 4175 24th St. (shown). Photo by Sally Smith