Chatter's blog

Fire Relief: Children's Book Drive at DIESEL in Larkspur

The fires raging throughout Northern California have left thousands homeless.  Many are staying in shelters awaiting news of their homes.  Children are afraid, and bored, in the shelters, away from their homes, their pets, and their books.  We are mounting a Children's Book Drive at our store at the Marin Country Mart, as part of Fire Relief efforts spreading throughout our communitites. 

DIESEL Oakland Says Goodbye

Dear Reader,

This is our last note to you from #1 DIESEL, in Oakland.  At midnight tonight DIESEL in Oakland becomes East Bay Booksellers, with Brad at the helm.  

It has been indescribably wonderful being your local booksellers for the last 28 years.  The community you’ve welcomed us into and that we’ve created and maintained together has been so important to us, and still is!  (We will continue to live in the neighborhood, so we will still see you around – but no longer behind the counter, or shelving books.)

Press Release

For immediate release:
DIESEL, A Bookstore in Oakland Officially Becomes East Bay Booksellers on September 1, 2017

Oakland, CA — How often do you get to talk about a bookstore closing, and it actually is a good story? When we announced in November that the founders of DIESEL, A Bookstore wanted to sell their Oakland location to me, one of their longtime managers, I had no idea what the response would be. When I called a customer meeting at the store to explain what we had in mind and why we wanted to do it, my greatest fear was awkward silence. 

Our customers, however, were neither awkward nor silent. In two months, I raised half of what I needed to buy the inventory. A couple months after that, I had enough to do so. By mid-summer, I had sufficient capital to run a business. 

I've had some time now to reflect on why we met with such fundraising success. From the stories people told me, especially as we talked about their love of DIESEL and independent bookstores, it clearly wasn't because something had to change. As I repeated early and often, the changes we were pursuing were not necessary -- there was no financial doomsday behind it all. I think our customers recognized the positivity at the root of our plans. What better time is there to make a change than when it isn't being forced upon you? 

On Friday, September 1, 2017, the store will open its doors with relatively minimal fanfare as East Bay Booksellers. Customers will be forgiven if they don't immediately notice the new logo on the window. Or perhaps don't at the moment remark on the new bookmarks we slide into their books. We want the store to feel familiar, with touches of difference they can't quite put a finger on -- and not just when they come in for the first time after the change, but every time thereafter. Change doesn't have to happen, but thankfully it does anyway!

Of course, as the word spreads and the dust settles, we will schedule a party so everyone can celebrate their memories of DIESEL. In the meantime, moved by the devastating need of in Texas and beyond, East Bay Booksellers is honoring its history as a progressive cultural hub by donating 20% of its opening weekend sales to Hurricane Harvey relief.

Some things will never change. 

Brad Johnson
5433 College Avenue
Oakland, CA 94618
Ph: (510) 653-9965

September 1 Approaches Quickly!

It's taken a long time -- just shy of a year -- but the transition of our Oakland store into East Bay Booksellers is very nearly complete. Current store manager, Brad Johnson, has raised the money he needs to move ahead. All that's left now are the legal and practical niceties. September 1 is marked on our calendars. Maybe now it is on yours, too.

Brad answered some questions for LitHub about buying the store, and we expect you have some as well. So here's a stab at answering some of them:

What will change (besides the name)? -- Did you notice the yellow in that logo?! You'll definitely be seeing more of that on bookmarks, tote bags, and the like.

You know what we mean? Are you still going to have the same diverse array of books? -- Oh, definitely! In addition to managing the store for a few years now, Brad's been buying the books we put on the shelves. You're in very good hands.

What about the staff? -- As above, you're in very good hands. DIESEL was built in Oakland by its booksellers being some of the best of the land. Brad believes that so much he put "Booksellers" in the name of the new store. There are no staffing changes in the works. 

Are you still going to host events and book groups? You better believe it. Check out the Oakland events calendar, and you'll see things booked in September. Those will become East Bay Booksellers events after September 1. That means: Jesmyn Ward! Santiago Gamboa! Daniel Handler! And you can expect so very much even after that. 

That East Bay Booksellers website looks kind of bare? Will I still be able to buy books online? Patience! We're still doing business in the East Bay, online and in person, as DIESEL. (& will continue doing so in the North Bay and SoCal!) In other words, DIESEL isn't going away. It's only a little complicated. Short version: if you shop DIESEL in Oakland, soon, very soon, you will be able to buy books at East Bay Booksellers, read staff reviews, and whatever else tech wizardry can conjure. In the meantime, follow them on Twitter and Facebook

More throughout the month! 

Help Us Out With Our Ownership Transition in Oakland

UPDATE (7/1/2017): The IndieGoGo campaign has closed. Thanks, everybody, for your support. Please contact Brad directly if you're interested in participating in the $1,000+ loan program.

As longtime owners of DIESEL, A Bookstore here in Oakland, Alison Reid and John Evans have seen the industry grow, become threatened, and rise again. One lesson they’ve learned: if you don’t shake things up yourself, it’s only a matter of time before somebody else shakes it up for you. They believe they’ve found in Brad Johnson not only a bookseller they could mold into the current store manager, but one to whom they'd like to sell the store. He could use your help make this happen!

Short Summary

For over 25 years, DIESEL, A Bookstore has been a vital part of the literary and cultural fabric woven here in the East Bay. We've been a community sounding board. A safe place. A discovery zone. In short, one of the best damn neighborhood bookstores here or anywhere. Yes, we may be proud about that, but it's never been just about us: this is YOUR neighborhood bookstore, after all. 

The East Bay is a complex place, but one of the constants is that it is always changing. People come and they go. Industries are in and then they're out. The ground moves beneath our very feet! The other constant is this: we rally together in the jolt of it all. (This is all the more true in the face of the current political situation. We need one another more than ever!)

So, yes ... it is not enough for we at DIESEL to be excited about this change. We need you to be, too! We're in this together, after all. With your help, East Bay Booksellers will be born. 

* * *

Who Are We? 

That's me over there, Brad Johnson. If you've been a regular DIESEL shopper for a while, you've probably seen some variation of this photo: me at the store, coffee in hand (or not far from my hand). For much of my adult life I pursued academia -- I wasn't expecting bookselling to pursue me instead. It didn't take long for me to realize this is what I was meant to do. (For more details, see a biographical piece I wrote for Literary Hub, "From the Seminary to the Bookstore.")

Let's get specific, though. I'm talking about bookselling in the East Bay! Sure, the whole Bay Area is changing. We all know this. And yet, there remains a strong intellectual and empathetic energy in the East Bay, an enduring sense of "I got your back" community, that makes our independent bookstore scene an envy of much of the country. 

* * *

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Why is DIESEL changing ownership?  Alison Reid and John Evans (the owners of DIESEL, A Bookstore -- in Oakland, Brentwood and Larkspur) are right now only looking to sell the Oakland store ... to one person, and that's Brad Johnson. Lots of reasons can be stated, but they all basically boil down to their recognition of themselves (as booksellers) in him. He is passionate and smart about the role in a way they respect, and they think he will carry DIESEL's legacy forward in a vibrant, new way. 
  • Okay, but why the change of name to East Bay Booksellers?  DIESEL's other two locations are not on the market, and will remain the same. Thus, the practical need for a new name. East Bay Booksellers is a declaration of identity -- that where we are matters as much as what we do. You won't meet many people as passionate about this relationship between place and profession as Brad. 
  • How much money do you need to raise?  DIESEL is known throughout the East Bay (and the bookselling world in general) as having an impeccably curated, diverse collection of books. East Bay Booksellers will be no different. We hope always to have the books you come in looking for, but our biggest pleasure is when you discover something you didn't even know existed. In our experience, it takes about $200,000, for the inventory and proper capitalization. A significant portion of this has been raised through a community lending campaign. Friends and neighbors have asked us repeatedly for opportunities to donate smaller amounts. We still need about 25% of our goal: now's your chance to help! 

* * *

The Impact

Good bookstores are not only profitable businesses, but are proven cultural institutions. It's taken a while, but the story of our impending demise is slowly being put to rest. Over the past seven years, independent bookstores have defied the reports of their demise. In fact, they are downright thriving

I'm especially happy to participate in the Bay Area bookselling scene, not least because of the social stands it allows us to take. The current political situation is a profound shock on multiple levels. But it also deeply affirms what it is we do and stand for. The relief in peoples’ eyes when I asked them in the days after the election, "How are you holding up?" cements to me the value of this space. It’s a place of commerce, but our goods are ideas and empathy. Neighborhood bookstores offer intellectual sustenance to some; safe haven for others. Our core values are conversation and community — which means openness, diversity, and change. This is all the more true going forward.

* * *

Risks & Challenges

Naivety doesn't endure very long in the book business. Margins are tight. Costs are always rising. And the allure of discounts online (whose ultimate high costs are always hidden) cannot be denied. It's not an easy business. 

The challenge may be a daily one, but so are the opportunities. We are committed to bookselling as a profession, rather than simply a job. It's easy to sell the same bestseller to everybody who walks in the door. (Especially when they come in looking for it.) Listening to people first, and recommending second -- that's the art of what we do, and it is one of the reasons we stock such a diverse array of books. There is no one-size-fits-all book. There's no algorithm for the associative feeling you get from reading a book while you're in and out of love. There are, thankfully, flesh-and-blood booksellers who have gone through the same.

* * *

Other Ways You Can Help

We know that these are trying times, and donation dollars can sometimes get spread a bit thin. If you're not in a position to help financially, your enthusiasm for what we have cooking here in the East Bay cannot be understated. Help us spread the word about the campaign! And when time comes for the doors to open as East Bay Booksellers, come by and say hi. We look forward to your contribution to the store's latest chapter. 


Word of the Worlds May 2017

The May Issue of Word of the Worlds is out! This issue, bookseller David presents Collective Resistance in Scifi. If you'd like to receive Word of the Worlds via email (and who wouldn't?), click here to sign up. --Chris


May Day 2017

As is our tradition, our Oakland store will be closed on May 1, in honor and celebration of May Day. Whether you’re working or not, though, are fingers-crossed in sympathy or locked-arm in solidarity with the struggle of May Day, we hope you have time today to haunt a capital-C Capitalist with its spirit. 


Word of the Worlds April 2017

The April Issue of Word of the Worlds is out! This issue, we're excited to focus on Women Writers in Scifi, too often forgotten. If you'd like to receive Word of the Worlds via email (and who wouldn't?), click here to sign up. --Chris


National Poetry Month 2017

National Poetry Month Banner

For the month of April, we have created a video poem for each day. Check each day to see what's new. Spread the word and, most importantly, enjoy!

Word of the Worlds March 2017

March 2017