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Store History

Borderlands first opened its doors on Monday, November 3, 1997, at 534 Laguna Street (in San Francisco's Hayes Valley neighborhood). The space was about 1000 square feet in a pre-fire Victorian building. In the past the space had been an office, an ice cream store, and was originally the servants' quarters for the building next door. The character of the building helped shape the aesthetic of the store, a style that owner Alan Beatts calls "Minimalist Victorian". During the course of getting ready to open, Alan learned how to build bookshelves, refinish wood floors, and more about plumbing than he ever wanted to know. Borderlands began as a used-only bookstore, the shelves stocked with about 6,000 books (a combination of Alan's personal collection and some great collectibles and paperbacks purchased from the extremely helpful folks at Know Knew Books in Palo Alto). The store rapidly became a meeting place and social center for readers and authors, and hosted many special events. The earliest events at Borderlands were readings with authors Peter Beagle and John Shirley.

In the Spring of 1998, the store began stocking new hardcovers, with a special focus on independent publishers. (To this day Borderlands has one of the best selections of small-press genre titles in the country.) Near the end of that year the store began carrying selected new softcover titles. In February of 1999, Alan hired Borderlands' first employee, Jeremy Lassen, who still works at the store every week despite his position as publisher of Nightshade Books.

In 1999, Borderlands earned the honor of Best Creepy Movie Night in Hayes Valley from the SF Weekly newspaper, and the Best Place to Meet a Kinky Space Cadet from the San Francisco Bay Guardian in 2000. On the heels of both of these awards, Alan was repeatedly reminded by his friends and staff that "there's no such thing as bad publicity."

In March of 2001, the management learned of an opportunity to move the store to a much larger space in the Mission District. Since the Mission was where Alan had wanted to open originally and the store was starting to get a bit short on space, this seemed like a golden opportunity. The owner of the used clothing store Captain Jack's on Valencia Street wanted to close his store and move to Los Angeles to become a stand-up comedian. Borderlands took over the lease and bought the inventory from the clothing store and for several months all of the booksellers did double duty -- selling books at Laguna Street and used clothes on Valencia! When all the clothes were gone, they set about transforming the place into Borderlands. Alan built almost all of the bookshelves you'll see in the store photos in our Gallery , and he and the staff put in countless hours refinishing the floors, repainting the livid pink and green walls to the current, more subdued antique white, building additional walls, removing large piles of moldering jeans and other debris from the basement, and otherwise becoming temporary handy people to make Borderlands look the best it possibly could.

On Tuesday, May 8, 2001, Borderlands opened in its current 2000 square foot space at 866 Valencia Street. Shortly thereafter the store received an award from the San Francisco Bay Guardian for being The Best Sign of De-Gentrification in the Mission. The store has been mentioned by AAA's travel magazine VIA, Gourmet Magazine, and the Washington Post. Borderlands currently stocks nearly 14,000 titles. The store continues to expand and today is regarded as one of the premier genre bookstores in the country.

About Borderlands' Name

There were many reasons for calling the store Borderlands; partially a tribute to the brilliant and eponymous anthologies of that name, partially a nod to Terri Windling's Bordertown books, partially a reference to William Hope Hodgson's classic House on the Borderland, but mostly because science fiction, fantasy and horror exist on the borderlands of literature.

"Myths are one of our most useful techniques of living, ways of telling the world and narrating reality, but in order to be useful they must (however archetypal and collectively human their structure) be retold; and the teller makes them over -- and over." - Ursula K. Le Guin, from Buffalo Gals and Other Animal Presences

"Myth is the collective language of a people. The stories that we as a society and as individuals tell each other color our world view and shape our responses and judgments. These stories thrive in a hinterland of shadowy explanation, justifying our convictions and creating a safe place to house our deepest fears. Fantasy literature exists at this same (mostly unexplored) periphery of imagination and fundamental truths; the borderland from which our deepest certainties occasionally emerge. Science fiction, fantasy, and horror writing is the new mythology." - Jude Feldman, Borderlands' General Manager

About Borderlands' Logo

Old Sages by the Figure of the Snake
Encircled thus, did oft expression make
Of Annual-Revolutions; and of things,
Which wheele about in everlasting-rings;
There ending, where they first of all begun ...
... These Roundells, help to shew the Mystery
of that immense and blest Eternitie,
From whence the CREATURE sprung, and into whom
It shall again, with full perfection come ...

-- A Collection of Emblemes, Ancient and Moderne (London, 1635) by George Wither (the specific reference is to emblem 3.23)

uroboros (n.). Also ouroboros, uroborus. The symbol, usually in the form of a circle, of a snake (or dragon) eating its tail.

-- The Oxford English Dictionary, Second Edition

The Ouroboros (alternate spellings include oroborus, uroboros, and oureboros) as an image dates as far back as 1600 BC, where it appears in Egypt. The name comes from the Greek and means, literally, "biting its own tail". It also appears in Norse mythology as Jörmungandr, otherwise known as the Midgard Serpent which encircles the world and will wake for the final battle between good and evil ( Ragnarök). The Greeks interpreted it as symbolizing the cyclic principle of the universe and that which has no end and no beginning.

We chose the ouroboros as the logo for Borderlands because of the relation it has to used bookselling (which was where we got our start). Though a used book has a beginning and (if we're unlucky) an end, there is a very cyclic nature to the business. Any number of times we have resold the same book over and over as one customer buys it, later sells it back to us, and then we sell it again.

Plus, to be honest, it looks pretty neat.

Staff Biographies

Alan Beatts

Alan Beatts is the founder of Borderlands. Prior to opening the store, Alan worked in a number of positions in the Law Enforcement / Private Security field after studying Administration of Justice in college. He worked as (among other things) a firearms instructor, offensive/defensive driving instructor (a job that influences his habits even now, as anyone who drives with him can tell you), bodyguard, strike security officer and private investigator. After many years in that field he decided that a change might be nice.

Pursuing his love of bars and nightclubs, Alan worked for three years as a nightclub promoter and DJ in the San Francisco goth and industrial scene. This led, by some unknown process, to managing a motorcycle repair shop. After managing a few other businesses he realized two things: that he absolutely loved running businesses and that he wasn't really cut out to work for someone else. Retail businesses had always interested him and, combined with his love of books and SF, the choice seemed obvious. About six months later, Borderlands was the result.

It was one of the best decisions he has ever made.

In his free time Alan does recreational woodworking and cabinetry (he built most of the furniture and shelves in the store), reads as much as he ever did, and still enjoys two of the fixtures of his past careers -- shooting and dancing (NOT, as some may claim, at the same time).

Jude Feldman

Jude Feldman, Borderlands' General Manager, wears a lot of black, because she has no color matching sense and can't be bothered to develop any. She is a former liberal arts student, welder, scenic tech, and computer micro-assembly technician who was swallowed by this marvelous science fiction, fantasy and horror bookstore in 2001.

She hasn't really been seen since.

Before that, she held a variety of jobs including one where she got hit in the head with cardboard wine boxes for nearly a whole day before quitting. Jude handles all of Borderlands' special orders, a lot of new and used book-buying, and everything else that no one else wants to handle. She lives in San Francisco, has a minor obsession with the store's hairless cat, and finds it pretentious to refer to herself in the third person.

Cary Heater

Cary Heater has no actual physical existence outside of Borderlands. She is the ruthless mistress of returns as well as being the number one clerk at the shop. When the store closes, we fold her up and store her in the bottom of Jude's desk drawer.

She quite likes this existence.

Heather Cornish

A rare example of the born and bred San Franciscan, Heather Cornish, Borderlands' mail order expert and back-up clerk, has been kind enough to give unstintingly of her time. This is especially considerate given her busy campaign to be the first female President of the US. Her background in comedy will be a great help when she's finally elected to office.

Before becoming a master of domestic and international shipping, Heather worked as a bartender, nightclub publicist, and administrative assistant. In her spare time she plays with cats, shops for clothes bargains, and copyrights new and imaginative curses.

Jeremy Lassen

Jeremy Lassen is the World Fantasy Award winning publisher of Night Shade Books. He has worked at independent bookstores for 10 years, and reads broadly in the SF, Fantasy and Horror genres, as well as mystery and "mainstream" . The depth and breadth of his knowledge is staggering, and he is modest to boot. His favorite game is "Name That Book." Previous winning questions successfully answered by Jeremy include "I'm looking for a book about a river -- it has a blue cover" (1) and "There's this author... he writes books that are sort of about religion..."(2).


Borderlands' store cat, Ripley, is a bit unusual. She's a member of a breed known as a Sphynx. In practical terms this means that she has very little hair and looks a bit . . . rumpled. Not to mention wrinkled. Despite her appearance she was only born in 2002 and is in excellent health.

Why such a wierd cat? Two reasons -- first, since Ripley has no hair, she doesn't shed. This means that although she still produces the dander that causes allergic reactions, there isn't hair floating all over the store, setting off people's allergies. Second, as a rule Sphynx have a very friendly and tranquil disposition which is important in an environment like Borderlands.

For more about Ripley you can look at our Ripley FAQ.