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Minerva’s Owl was a beloved bookstore


Juicy News is moving down the hill to 2181 Union Street — the very place, longtime locals will remember, where Minerva’s Owl Bookshop was located for many years.

Minerva’s Owl was actually created three blocks east at 1823 Union in 1964 from what was originally a coal yard. I founded the bookstore with my partner Ruth Isaacs. We met when I worked for her at the Golden Gate Valley branch library, the lovely Beaux Arts building at Green and Octavia. People from all over the city came to her for advice and recommendations about what books to read.

Then the city, in the name of progress, decided to centralize the library system. Ruth moved to the main library as head of the humanities department, taking her away from readers and admirers and away from the books she delighted in putting into their hands.

A Minerva's Owl bookmark.

A Minerva’s Owl bookmark.

To say this was a different time is an understatement. There were no discounts. No Amazon or Barnes and Noble. No Internet. No Visa or Mastercard. Everything at the store was purchased with cash or personal checks, and good customers had charge accounts for which we billed them at the end of the month.

In the beginning, we may have envisioned having time to read books, but that showed our naivete. We were a personal service business and we did everything. We ordered the books from brief catalog descriptions and photos of the jacket design. We opened the boxes and put the books on the shelves, paid invoices, gift wrapped and delivered books. The two of us knew every book in the store. We often knew customers better by their voices or their taste in books, rather than by their appearances, since many ordered by phone.

At that time Union Street was not the upscale neighborhood it has become. It was just beginning to blossom. Marion Davidson’s fine American Indian art gallery was on one side of our bookshop and there was a nice Mexican restaurant up the street. The Metro Theater was already the home of the original San Francisco Film Festival. A cobbler, a florist and a plumber, among others, made up the neighborhood. Jim Marshall, the rock ’n’ roll photographer, hung around some of the time and showed us his pictures that ended up in Rolling Stone.

As business picked up we hired Edwina Evers, later Edwina Leggett, who had actual bookstore experience in Connecticut, along with Marion Seawell, a bookkeeper who was also an artist.

In the late 1960s the bookstore moved down the street to 2181 Union, which will be the new home of Juicy News. The business grew. The ownership expanded. Over time Minerva’s Owl became the property of Edwina, Joan Sinton and Blair Fuller, an early editor of The Paris Review, who taught writing at Stanford and co-founded the Squaw Valley Community of Writers.

“It was just the right size,” remembered Sydney Goldstein, founder of City Arts and Lectures. “It had such a special feeling. People came from all over the city. They counted on finding people there who knew and loved books. It was clearly a labor of love.”

Items about writers turning up at Minerva’s Owl began to appear in Herb Caen’s column in the Chronicle. Truman Capote came by. Norman Mailer arrived, but Blair was busy. “So he turned him over to me,” Edwina said. “Lordy, what will I do with Norman Mailer?” she asked. “Easy,” was Blair’s answer. “Take him to the nearest bar.”

Ask anyone who remembers. Minerva’s Owl was a wonderful bookstore. It was run by friendly familiar faces who knew and loved books. It was a very special way to buy. It was a community that blossomed.

“It had such a loyal following,” said Sydney Goldstein.

Let’s wish the same for Juicy News.