“This place is magic”

Fred Martin has worked there for 36 of Browser Books' 40 years.

Fred Martin has worked at Browser Books on Fillmore for 36 of its 40 years.

“LOVE WAS IN THE AIR,” says Fred Martin of the days when he and Browser Books were both young.

And on many nights, it still is.

“This place is magic,” he says of the bookstore, where he has worked for 36 of its 40 years as it grew into a landmark on Fillmore Street. “People love this place. They get caught up in interesting conversations.”

And sometimes more. Many lasting connections have been made in Browser Books: couples on dates uncovering mutual interests, spouses returning to a favorite haunt, chance meetings that grow into romance.

The store is filled with love stories — from the stacks of Neruda that sell out on Valentine’s Day, to Romeo and Juliet on high school reading lists, and the middle-aged professional proudly unembarrassed to ask for Fifty Shades of Grey.

“It’s the most realistic portrait of the romantic idea of working in a bookstore I’ve ever had,” says Jordan Pearson, the newest of the Browser clerks. “It’s being a bartender without the liquor — and sometimes I wish I had a bouncer late at night.”

“I always feel like I’m the party host,” says Fred Martin. “I want the store to be a place where people can be at home and talk about anything. I love being part of that.”

Browser Books opened in 1976 a block north next door to the Clay Theatre.

“It was a real artist hangout,” says Martin. He recalls a couple who met in the old store and got married under the avocado tree in the garden out back, near the fountain with a sculpture of brass instruments. Just recently they stopped by, back in town from Oregon, and talked about moving back.

In 1989 Browser gave up used books and moved south to its smaller current location.

“We’re not just a little library, like a lot of other places,” says Martin. “People have always been friendly and outspoken here.”

The Beat poet Latif Harris worked at the old Browser for a time and lived upstairs above the shop. He met his wife when she came browsing into the store one day. Fred Martin also met his spouse there. And so have others.

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BOOK LOVERS

By FRED MARTIN, KEN SAMUELS and ERIN MESSER
of the Browser Books staff

Browser Books, a neighborhood fixture since 1976, has no doubt sparked countless anonymous instances of romance. The store’s staff, however, has been especially susceptible to this phenomenon. Perhaps it’s because we spend so much time in the store — or perhaps it’s because there’s just something a little different about the kind of person who chooses to work in a bookstore.

Fred Martin (right) and William Weber in 1988 in their beloved Yosemite National Park.

Fred Martin (right) and William Weber in 1988 in their beloved Yosemite National Park.

FRED’S STORY

It was 1981, back in the funky, colorful days of the neighborhood, when Browser Books was still in its old location next to the Clay Theatre. I had been at the store less than a year, working nights mostly, when I met William Weber, a psychiatrist with an office nearby. William was taking some free time between appointments one day to browse the bookstore in the company of a woman friend, a flamboyant personality from Texas. William — from Yazoo City, Mississippi — was less flamboyant, but seductive, with his big brown eyes and that low bedroom voice.

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A musical journey

Chris Nichols performing at Oxford Lieder Festival in 2016.

Chris Nichols performing at Oxford Lieder Festival in 2016.

FIRST PERSON | CHRIS NICHOLS

My day job in the tech world is rewarding, but music is my passion. And much of my musical journey has played itself out on Fillmore Street.

It started two decades ago with a friend’s invitation to a Thursday night rehearsal of the choir at Calvary Presbyterian Church at Fillmore and Jackson. Alden Gilchrist was directing — my first encounter with this world-class musician and wonderful human being, who was at the heart of Calvary’s musical excellence for more than 60 years, until his death in 2014.

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Oldest Japantown grocery becomes a new Korean spa

The new Pearl Spa is located in Japantown at 1656 Post Street.

The new Pearl Spa is located at 1656 Post Street in Japantown.

BODY & SOUL | BARBARA KATE REPA

There was a message on my phone marked urgent: “There’s a new spa in the neighborhood — and it looks really, really nice.”

The alert came from Melody Sams, a friend who had spied the newly opened Pearl Spa & Sauna on Post Street, just a few doors down from her acupuncture clinic. In addition to practicing Chinese medicine and massage on her own, Melody has worked as a masseuse at both the neighboring Kabuki Springs & Spa and the Nob Hill Spa. She knows spas.

We made appointments to try out the new place together. At 1656 Post Street, jammed into a block of disconnected retail shops and restaurants, it’s an unlikely locale for an oasis. But the spot also has a venerable act to follow: It’s in the former home of Uoki K. Sakai, the oldest grocery store in Japantown, which closed its doors at the end of 2011 after 105 years in business.

An amazing transformation has occurred. The fish market and aisles of tall metal racks stacked with groceries have been replaced by gleaming marble and tile and whimsical light fixtures. The space has been reconfigured as a classy, immaculate, modern day spa for women. Owners Ray and Tracy Giron have spared no detail.

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A pair of important homes

The Vedanta Society's "new temple" at Fillmore and Vallejo.

The Vedanta Society’s “new temple” at Fillmore and Vallejo.

LANDMARKS | BRIDGET MALEY

The Vedanta Society of Northern California was founded in 1900 by visiting Hindu monk Swami Vivekananda, who earlier gained fame and admiration at the Chicago Parliament of World Religions in 1893. The society owns two neighborhood landmarks: the “old temple” at 2963 Webster at Filbert, completed in 1905, then further expanded in 1908; and the “new temple” at 2323 Vallejo at Fillmore, dedicated in 1959.

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In Vino veritas no more

After 20 years, Vino closed on New Year's Eve.

After 20 years at 2425 California Street, Vino closed on New Year’s Eve.

By CHRIS BARNETT

On New Year’s Eve, when most wine and champagne purveyors were tallying up their holiday sales receipts, Vino at 2425 California Street closed its doors forever after a 20-year run — the victim of a potential $1,000 a month rent hike, shrinking profits and a retailing strategy that no longer works in the neighborhood.

Unpretentious, with decor fashioned mostly out of wooden shipping boxes and paper tubes, and resembling a ground level wine cellar without the chill, Vino was known for its straight talk on wines, good values and its 350-bottle inventory of mostly eclectic imports.

Actually, Vino’s owner, seasoned wine retailer and wholesaler Alan Pricco, decided to pull the plug even before the property manager hit him with a  $12,000 a year rent increase. “I called him and said we’re leaving,” Pricco says.

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Full House, fuller street

Fans of the Full House TV show flock to 1709 Broderick Street.

A new sign greets fans of the Full House television show flocking to 1709 Broderick Street.

FOR YEARS, residents of the 1700 block of Broderick Street, between Bush and Pine, have struggled with an overabundance of love from fans of the beloved ’80s sit-com Full House, supposedly set at 1709 Broderick.

When a sequel, Fuller House, was launched last year, the opening credits still showed the Italianate Victorian at 1709, and the daily confluence of fans intensified.

Now neighbors are bracing themselves for what comes next after learning the house has been sold, for $4 million, to Jeff Franklin, the creator and producer of Full House and Fuller House.

“The house came on the market and really, I just thought, I have to buy this house,” Franklin told the Hollywood Reporter. “It’s great to have the house in our Full House family and be able to preserve it for the fans.”

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Kelly’s Corner

Kelly on Fillmore, a portrait of Kelly Johnson by Anne Ruth Isaacson

Kelly on Fillmore, a portrait of Kelly Johnson by Anne Ruth Isaacson

LOCALS | ANNE RUTH ISAACSON

After a long walk back home from the Hardly Strictly Blue Grass Festival, I stopped at Fillmore and Sacramento for coffee. Outside on the corner there were no free tables, but a gentleman signaled that I could join him and his friend.

That was the day I met Kelly Johnson. I found him instantly likable and engaging. Soon I would learn what many locals already knew: that he can usually be found on that corner, nursing a coffee, available for interesting conversation.

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From the Fillmore to the stratosphere

The artist Bruce Conner ran an unconventional campaign for city supervisor.

The artist Bruce Conner ran for supervisor in 1967.

ART | JEROME TARSHIS

During the early and middle ’60s, when I was thinking about moving from New York to San Francisco, one of the inducements was that Bruce Conner lived here. My avant-garde film friends thought his first film, A Movie (1958), was an instant classic, followed by one success after another.

The objects he made — assemblage sculptures — were being shown at major galleries in New York, London, Paris, Rome and Mexico City. He was in great collections on both sides of the Atlantic. Not bad for a 30ish artist born and brought up in Kansas.

A more complicated Bruce Conner is the subject of “It’s All True,” his fullest retrospective so far, almost worshipfully received earlier this year at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and now at SFMOMA through January 22.

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TV for a desert island

tvcover

BOOKS | DAVID THOMSON

In writing my new book, Television: A Biography, I revisited a lot of shows that were old favorites. Some stood the test of time; some did not. What follows is a list of 10 shows I’d like to have on a desert island — not my top 10, you must understand, just an assortment of good stuff. I hope the island has a sofa.

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