Continuing our monthly spotlight on amazing independent bookstores around the country, for June we want to highlight Dog Eared Books Castro, an eclectic bookstore stacked high with LGBTQ+ selections in the heart of San Francisco! Sitting down with manager Alvin Orloff, 3RP’S own author of DISASTERAMA!: Adventures in the Queer Underground 1977-1997, we discussed everything Dog Eared, including its history, inclusive community, oddball traditions, and more. Find the complete interview below!
3RP: To start, could you tell us a little about how Dog Eared Books got started? What about the name “Dog Eared Books”—where did it come from?
Alvin Orloff: Kate Razo opened Dog Eared in 1992 in San Francisco’s Mission District, then (before the tech boom) a low-rent enclave playing host to all manner of bohemians and eccentrics. The name refers to the practise of folding the tip of a page down to mark a spot in the book one’s reading.
The Castro branch opened in 2016 because Castro Street, despite being the epicenter of many LGBTQ+ communities in San Francisco, didn’t have a bookstore.
AO: I believe Dog Eared Castro’s 7+ giant bookcases of LGBT books gives us one of the largest selections of LGBT+ titles of any bookstore anywhere. Alley Cat has a focus on Spanish language, poetry, and art. Dog Eared Valencia is the largest of the three stores and has a wide variety of everything.
Just my opinion, but I think a neighborhood without a bookstore is like a body without a soul, a potato without sour cream, or a day without sunshine.
3RP: Returning to Dog Eared Castro—how have you worked to foster and build a community for LGBTQ+ readers and authors, and within the Bay Area?
AO: We promote LGBT+ community by offering a space where people can hang out and discuss books with random strangers. And of course we not only carry, but promote and showcase LGBT+ lit with a special focus on local authors. Lots of them actually come in to hang out and sign their work. Just last week the mystery writer Michael Nava and sci-fi author Charlie Jane Anders were here. Before COVID we hosted events featuring LGBT+ authors, and I expect soon we’ll be able to start doing so again.
3RP: Tell me more about the LGBT Book Club hosted at Dog Eared Castro! How did it begin, and how are book selections made?
AO: The LGBT Book Club started in 2004 and came here when the store that had been hosting it closed. They choose their own selections and operate independently of us. We just provide chairs and eat the chocolate chip cookies they bring (which have DOUBLE chocolate chips!). They’ve been on Zoom since COVID started, but we’ll invite them back the moment it’s safe.
3RP: We also saw on your website that some books throughout the store are staff-reviewed with their own personal touches/notes sticking out the top. Are there any other traditions at Dog Eared Books?
AO: Many employees here have eclectic and/or eccentric taste, so I guess you could say we have a tradition of stocking a lot of oddball books along with bestsellers and classics.
3RP: With the impact of COVID-19, how have you stayed connected to the Dog Eared Books community? Any plans for Pride Month?
AO: We stayed connected with our community during the COVID crisis by joining the 21st century, i.e. updating our website so customers can now order online and get books shipped anywhere.
3RP: You yourself are an author and 3RP alum with DISASTERAMA!—your own memoir taking readers into the AIDS crisis of the late 1970s and 80s, and the cultural resistance and queer rebellion of San Fransisco. You had a great interview with Meagan Brothers, another amazing 3RP author, but since the memoir’s release, is there anything you wish readers would know about your book that hasn’t been talked about, or any questions you wish you’d been asked? Are you currently working on anything new?
AO: My life is an open book (literally!) so there’s nothing more I really need to get off my chest.
I am now working on a comedic novel set in San Francisco at the end of the 90s. If follows the travails of a passive-aggressive and highly neurotic gay barfly contending with gentrification, self-loathing, and the inexorable onset of middle-age.
3RP: Lastly, what ways can people get involved and support Dog Eared Books?
AO: Supporting Dog Eared Books Castro is super-easy. Shop here! And while you’re doing so, tell us about the books you love. We rely heavily on customer recommendations to diversify and improve our stock. If you can’t make it to the store in person, you can shop online at dogearedbookscastro.com.