Producing the Iconic Cable Car Bell Ringing Contest

San Francisco Municipal Railway’s (Muni’s) best of the best cable car operators compete for the title of best bell ringer in the biz. Among the most traditional and highest-profile events hosted by San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA), I had the honor and challenge of producing the 52nd and 53rd annual bell ringing showdown.

This event is pure San Francisco – traditional yet flashy, community-oriented yet featuring local celebrities, offering live music and lunchtime entertainment. And, of course, topped off with an actual  cable car parked in the middle of downtown’s Union Square. It’s a feat of logistics that pulls a crowd, generates a flurry of media coverage and reminds everyone of our shared appreciation for the few and the proud San Francisco cable car operators.

52nd Cable Car Bell Ringing Competition on July 9, 2015. R to L: Ed Cobean, Cable Car Sr. Operations Manager, Kristin Smith, Marketing Manager, Byron Cobb, bell ringing champ, Staci Morrison, Marketing Associate. 52nd Cable Car Bell Ringing Competition on July 9, 2015 in Union Square. R to L: Ed Cobean, Cable Car Sr. Operations Manager, Kristin Smith, Marketing Manager, Byron Cobb, bell ringing champ, Staci Morrison (me!), Marketing Associate.

Community support, merchant sponsorship and cross-divisional agency teamwork is crucial. Outreach to sponsors and local merchants in the Union Square area began as early as the start of the year (the event is in the summer). I was central to outreach, managing a growing list of prospective sponsors, levels of support, in-kind benefits, securing said benefits, organizing donated prizes and overseeing fulfillment of all sponsor perks. I was also responsible for the entire event layout – tenting, seating, audio/visual, staging of cable car, permitting – you name it!

(Fun fact: Union Square has a parking garage under it, and the SFMTA cable car is technically too heavy to park over said garage. Balancing (quite literally) the event centerpiece with great street-level visual staging and solid safety protocol was a challenge!)

Additional to the event logistics, the transit operators and the entire cable car division must be part of and sign off all the plans. After all, the event celebrates them! At the same time, they have important work to do on the rails. I setup weekly meetings with the division superintendent and labor rep to keep everyone talking, sharing ideas and staying up-to-date with the technical, mechanical and aesthetic needs for the big show. The cable car division is notoriously terrific to work with. It’s really no wonder the SFMTA continues this monstrous event year after year.

And, on top of the team calls, sponsor outreach and fulfillment, I was marketing lead for all promotional material: printed collateral, digital copy and graphics, on-site signage, handouts for on-street volunteer ambassadors, wayfinding for attendees and participants, and of course, the event script!

It’s a bear of an event in the context of public transportation agency. But when in San Francisco, and especially when talkin’ cable cars…this event cannot be too small.

To visualize the fun from the 52nd year’s event, peek at a few of the news clips. The contest garnered great media coverage at the local and national level:

Read more about the event lineup, sponsors and contestants on the SFMTA event page at

Stay tuned for an update from the 2016 contest coming soon!

Greeting "Elvis" one of the amateur ringers at the 53rd Cable Car Bell Ringing Contest on July 7, 2016.

Greeting “Elvis” one of the amateur ringers at the 53rd Cable Car Bell Ringing Contest on July 7, 2016.

Launching a smartphone transit app with the help of the Mayor’s Office

In the tech capital of the nation, how does San Francisco’s humble public transportation agency make a splash with its first mobile ticketing app? Well…aside from working with proven pros in the transit ticketing space, and ensuring the app illustrations were disarmingly adorable, you have a media event.

Not just any media event. One in a busy subway station. At the morning commute hour. With the Mayor’s Office.

Throw in a few custom decorations, a few matching t-shirts and a swarm of energetic ambassadors and you’ve got yourself a public agency app launch.

I was responsible for organizing the launch event, coordinating look and feel, setting up temporary signage, collaborating with local SF Travel Visitor Information Center on partner promo through their network, organizing a swarm of on-street ambassadors, overseeing talking points and helping the public navigate the app in the meantime.

Also coined the centerpiece slogan, “City by the Bay. Transit by the App,” you see in that wall-sized custom backdrop and conceived the handy dandy acronym-instructions of “It’s Easy as B-U-S (Buy, Use, Show).”

Read the corresponding blog post here. Also drafted the copy on the MuniMobile page here.

Screen Shot 2016-07-12 at 9.06.21

Launch of MuniMobile Mobile Phone Ticketing for Muni Fares | November 16, 2015. Photo by SFMTA Photography Department.
Launch of MuniMobile Mobile Phone Ticketing for Muni Fares | November 16, 2015. Photo by SFMTA Photography Department.


Blog piece: It’s MuniMobile Monday: Mobile Ticketing Is Here!

by Staci Morrison

Monday, November 16, 2015

Graphic of white iPhone with red screen and Muni worm logo with "mobile" underneath and a Muni bus, fog and Sutro Tower on the right.

Happy MuniMobile Monday! We are excited to announce the launch of MuniMobile, our new app that allows you to purchase Muni bus, rail and cable car tickets right from your phone.

This morning, we officially launched the app at Powell Station, a key transportation hub with Muni Metro, the F Line and Cable Cars all passing nearby. For downtown visitors, our friends at the San Francisco Travel Visitor Information Center were also on hand to offer their expertise on how to get to the best spots within our 7×7 miles via Muni.

Muni has long been a popular subject of transit apps in the city, but MuniMobile combines NextMuni arrival information and ticketing.

The MuniMobile app is available in the iPhone App Store and on Google Play for Android. To make sure you find the official one, note the full Muni worm in the app thumbnail and that “MuniMobile” is one word.

Once you download the app, you’re all set to purchase your tickets and get on your way. Remember to activate the ticket when you board or enter a paid area. Your phone is your fare — be ready to show the active MuniMobile screen as your proof of payment.

As the name implies, MuniMobile is specific for the Muni transit system. Mobile tickets work through visual validation by SFMTA staff so to board or enter metro faregates, flash your phone screen to the vehicle operator or station agent. With visual validation there’s no tapping at the gate.

For the full scoop, FAQs on how the app works and how to use it, head over to

Help us transition Muni successfully into the app age and begin using MuniMobile today! Then share how it works for you. This is a pilot program so your feedback is in integral part of evaluation and further development. This could be the beginning of a beautiful relationship.

"How to use MuniMobile" brochures "Download the app today, It's as easey as...Buy, Select and purchase the fare type you want. Use, Activate the ticket when you are ready to ride. Show, Flash your screen showing the active ticket as you board."
SFMTA Ambassadors greeted Muni riders to provide tips and answer questions this morning to announce the new app.


Written for publication on Moving SF, SFMTA blog. 

Event Activation & Media Sponsorship: San Francisco LGBT Pride Parade

Served as contact for the annual media sponsorship of one of the nation’s largest LGBT celebrations (arguably the second largest LGBT celebration in the world).

The goal of this partnership was beyond marketing the SFMTA as a strong ally of the LGBTQ community and offering staff a fun way to participate; support of this major, super high-profile event also offered the transit agency direct access to strategic transportation-related messaging across all SF Pride materials, mitigating frustrating and potentially unsafe transit and city street overcrowding, informing visitors of safe pedestrian and bicycle behavior and how to prepare for travel delays.

As events/sponsorship lead for the agency, my included the major deliverables of:

  • Negotiation of media sponsorship valued at up to $35,000
  • Content development for all event publications:
    • Social media development for owned and partner channels
    • SF Pride publications
    • Digital copy for agency pages and
  • Wayfinding directions that incorporate a promotional language for the Agency’s new mobile transit app
  • Oveseeing design development (parade banner, subway station A-frame signage, subway station banners, publication ads online and in print)
  • Ensuring all collateral and copy was finalized on schedule
  • Coordinate in-reach for staff participation of parade
  • Negotiation with vendors for marketing materials and decor for motorized cable car
  • Coordination with Transit division on securing and preparing motorized cable car, operator, route and schedule.


2016 SF Pride
2016 SF Pride
SFMTA Group in Pride Parade | June 26, 2016. Photo by SFMTA Photography Department.
SFMTA Group in Pride Parade | June 26, 2016. Photo by SFMTA Photography Department.
SFMTA Contingent in the Pride Parade | June 28, 2015. Photo by SFMTA Photography Department.
SFMTA Contingent in the Pride Parade | June 28, 2015. Photo by SFMTA Photography Department.


Blog piece: Sweet Potato Pancakes? Ain’t Nobody Got Time for That

*Archive re-post! From my now retired personal blog, The Unconventional Newlywed, which was published from 2012-2018.

And now for another lesson in newlywed bliss: don’t spend an hour and a half trying a new recipe unless you’re sure your husband actually likes the main ingredient. This is how I found out Alex doesn’t like sweet potatoes. 

Ah, the sweet potato. The charming poster child for our modern paleolithic folk, the healthy, trendier fancy. Packed full of vitamins and minerals, with Pinterest recipes aplenty, it’s a sure crowd pleaser for the health-conscious family. Right?


There are some deceitful traps in today’s blogorific recipe culture. And, I fell into two of them with my attempt to make sweet potatoes into something alluring for the husband and I.


So, here’s the recipe I was trying to mimic. I like it because it looks easy – not even pretty – easy. Looks easy. Isn’t.

Louisiana Sweet Potato pancakes from

As it turns out with these pesky, beta-carotene rich rooty vegetables, they are a prickly pain in the ass to mush up. I boiled my sweet potato browns (yes, that’s a pun) for some 20 minutes and thought I was in the clear to mush freely.

Then, I found out I don’t have a masher.

Then I found out raw-ish the center was not mashable anyway.

Then I began to hack at the vegetable, trying to forcefully coax it into mashedness.


I remembered blenders are good at this. Alas, the wee blender I have was no match for such a task. Nightmares of sizzling and smoke danced in my head and I quickly quit.

At the point I was tempted to take my own photo, but it was not attractive. Thanks, for showing me up.

The rest of the recipe turned out surprisingly well, considering the unwanted chunks. However, all my failed mashing, chopping and aggressive blending turned this “10 minute” prep into an hour.

Flour on my nose and decorating my shirt, I managed to fry up a pile of nutmeg-scented beauties. I also managed to realize the recipe makes 24 pancakes and I was making breakfast only for myself, Alex and my sister.

People eat nine pancakes each, right?

Noticing Alex eyeing my Pisa-like tower of potato hotcakes, I offered, oh-so generously, “do you want some?”

Shrugging and looking nonchalantly at his coffee, he responds, “maybe I’ll taste one. I don’t like sweet potatoes.”

What?! As if these orange frisbees hadn’t damaged my ego enough.

Second trap: Pinterest and food porn don’t work on all husbands. 

If you’re married to the stubborn “I like Uncrustables!” type, sweet potato pancakes just can’t compete. Some of us care about the vitamins and minerals we put into our bodies, some of us prefer to marry  healthier spouses and life a vitamin-enriched life by proxy.

Lesson learned.

I’d like to blame Pinterest, modern kitchen appliances and Internet recipes for luring me – yet again – down the rabbit hole of modern wifehood expectations, where I stand unable to defend myself with just a cast iron skillet and wooden spoon in hand.

Also, it helps to ask Alex directly, if he likes a food before I try to make it. Talking about it to his family, then to our friends, then to myself, with him in earshot doesn’t count.

Marriage, communication, go figure. 

Blog piece: Giving Thanks for Coffee and Husbands Who Cook

*Archive re-post from Thanksgiving Day 2012! From my now retired personal blog, The Unconventional Newlywed, which was published from 2012-2018.

Happy Thanksgiving! Today I am thankful that I married a man who can cook. 

Here is the breakdown of feast cooking duties for each of us:
  • Alex: Turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, molasses crinkle cookies
  • Staci: vegetables*, pumpkin pie
    *The vegetables don’t count as a whole item because they are just for me (recall Alex’s carnivorous disposition).

I am responsible only for pie. And, like the over-achieving-minded (because as we have come to realize, I plan for overachievement and often fail) person I am, I decided on using fresh pumpkin.

Fast forward to last night around 7:30 I am about to pour the pumpkin filling into the crust when I realize, it looks awful. Stringy and chunky, but smells great!

Turns out (according to seasoned, successful wifey cooking types like Pioneering Woman), a blender or food processer is kindof essential.

Curse you modern tools! Why doesn’t the Internet give me recipes from before it was born?

Instead of claiming defeat and walking across the street for canned pumpkin (Blame the BPA, its carcinogenic!! Also, I’m too proud), in a move of desperation (with a little sarcastic suggesting by Alex) I try to chop up little spoonfuls in our coffee grinder. It’s just like a blender but for small batches, right? Right.

Except small batches consecutively. About 15 times. Two successful batches in, the grinder begins to smoke and sizzle and dies in my hands.

Apparently this only works on dry ingredients under 1/4 cup volume. Pish posh.

It is now 8 p.m. the night before Thanksgiving. The pie is half-made. Our coffee grinder is broken. Suddenly, this is beyond pie pride. I have threatened the necessity of coffee drinking for Thanksgiving morning. And Black Friday (we support

Three days without a drop.

NO COFFEE?! Screw the pie. This calls for a run to Target. To brave the reckless Boston drivers swerving for the last feastly ingredients and parking spaces. Shit just got real.

Our quick and pouty Target run quickly turned into an adventure into surreal land of the despondent. The mood among employees was one of impending doom.

It’s not the best you can do, Massachusetts, but it will suffice.

It was like witnessing people digging their own graves. Except instead of shovels, they carried TVs and microwaves.

Trudging through the aisles like zombies in khaki and red.

Though I only needed a coffee grinder (and blender because Alex banned me from using non-coffee items in the grinder), I felt palpably guilty for promoting the comsumerism of the store.

Though it is the purpose of Target to sell goods, this Black Friday madness is a shameful extreme.

The Thanksgiving edition of the Boston Globe: 1 part news, 1 part ads.

If I could have slipped the cashier a $20 tip for ringing me up, I would have. Seems only natural to mitigate her fast-arriving loss of sanity.

So, this Thanksgiving morning, as I sip my freshly ground coffee and read the newspaper–the pumpkin puree debacle behind me–I am deeply thankful that I am not that woman…that I am not working on Thanksgiving.

Thankful for that one Puritan Blue Law that restricts retail shopping on Thanksgiving.

Thankful that Alex puts up with my awful homemaking skills without divorcing me. And that makes me feel pretty damn special.

 Happy holidays, ya’all. What are you thankful for?

Blog piece: Marriage is a Dirty Kitchen

*Archive re-post! From my now retired personal blog, The Unconventional Newlywed, which was published from 2012-2018.

Similar to the hidden fact that a new marriage should require the wife and husband to live together, I am convinced there is another hidden truth for adapting to life with a man. A cluttery, dish-dirtying, throw-my-wet-towel-on-the-bed boyish sort of man. But when will I learn it?!

Before we were engaged, I heard many a person warn me that finances would be the thorniest issue about newlywed life. About married life. People are liars, that’s the hardest part about life in general.

The worst part about newlywed life is keeping a clean apartment.

Keeping this space tidy has caused many a passionate disagreement around here. It is enough to make me feel genuinely neurotic. Like I am recently uncovering a latent case of obsessive compulsive disorder and my darling new husband has no sympathy for this disease. Current fiancees, be forewarned. In my case, I simply thought a tidy workspace and constantly clean kitchen were signs of an organized and efficient person. Apparently, not everyone agrees.

Oh the humanity! Get them out of there before something awful grows.

The decreased size of our apartment has magnified the effect of the dirty dish. A pile of plates in the sink are a Pisa tower of soggy dinner filth, threatening to direct wafts of watery spaghetti sauce in the direction of my breakfast toast. How’s a girl to read the morning news with that thought tickling her peripheral vision?

To make matters worse, I attempted to make them better. 

Our chalkboard is used for organizing, note writing, etc. Now it also shows the kitchen cleaning duties for each day. In more than one colored chalk because that means it’s fun! Of course, before I took to scribbling my clean dictatorship about the house, I asked Alex’s opinion. He, in typical dirty boy fashion, nodded and mumbled something inaudibly. This is where a good wife would probably infer something empathetic, but I inferred reluctant guilt at being a dirty boy and pranced into chore assignment with gusto. 

Is it because my handwriting is so terrible?

So far, Alex has not adhered to the rules of my game. Apparently imposing OCD onto another by rules of daily chores is not effective? I have tried to give him a couple days leeway but I cannot bring myself to ignore a dirty kitchen for very long…it truly makes me angry.

Uh oh. Neurosis. 

How do other couples solve this? To be an organized graduate student and keep a schedule of early shifts at Starbucks, afternoon classes and evening homework, organization must exist, right? Where is that elusive balance of happy home and clean home? 

Perhaps I need a boy’s opinion. A tidy boy’s opinion? Or at least some tips on that reverse psychology, I’m getting desperate here.





Website Optimization

This is an example of how I used a client web presence to overhaul and strengthen the overall brand, streamline messaging, integrate with multimedia and new media communication/outreach tools and revitalize the business’ social presence and transactional capabilities.

Client: Fit Chick Fitness, an indoor women’s boot camp offered by Aura Lee, owner and personal trainer at Incite Livermore

Goals for new website:

1. Optimize web presence to drive business.
2. Support online shopping.
3. Integrate with existing online presence of Incite Livermore.
4. Revitalize image of Fit Chick Fitness to match the high-energy boot camp program offered.
5. Simplify day-to-day website maintenance for business owners.

Fit Chick Fitness – Before: 

Incite website_before
Screenshot of original website for Fit Chick Fitness, a personal training boot camp service offered by Incite Livermore.


  • Overly technical, coding-focused hosting platform prevented quick, timely content updates.
  • Fixed design and graphic elements. Client did not have the skill, time, desire to re-code.
  • No traffic measurement or monitoring
  • Not optimized for search engines or mobile platforms
  • Lack of branding
  • Stale imagery
  • Sloppy design

Fit Chick Fitness – After:   

FitChickFitness website_after
Screenshot of Fit Chick Fitness webpage after 2014 relaunch, featuring color scheme to complement brand and updated, sliding images.


  • Clean, compelling imagery conveys professionalism
  • Streamlined navigation
  • Soft color palate of business & logo
  • Features images of actual clients in action
  • New web host with simplistic WYSIWYG design options
  • Intuitive editing for color palate, layout, images, content. Multiple predesigned layouts are also available for quick overhauls.
  • Direct integration with MailChimp, the email marketing software used by Fit Chick Fitness.
  • Attractive page & thumbnail sharing via social media
  • Mobile optimized to work with multiple devices
  • Built-in integration with Google Apps such as Analytics, AdWords
  • Integrated with PayPal for online purchases

Measurement of Client Goal Success:

1. Optimize web presence to drive business?
YES: I selected as  the new webpage host for Fit Chick Fitness. The software of Wix is optimal for business owners with minimal website backend/coding experience, focusing on the What You See is What You Get (WYSIWYG) presentation of webpage updating. The coding is built-in, and step-by-step updates are provided within Wix as necessary.

2. Support online shopping?
YES: Integration with PayPal for one-click purchasing and online billing.

3. Integrate with existing online presence of Incite Livermore?
YES: Linked seamlessly to Incite Livermore’s Facebook Page, Twitter account, and business contact information.

4. Revitalize image of Fit Chick Fitness to match the high-energy boot camp program offered?
YES: New website management host enables WYSIWYG image editing, access to regularly updated royalty-free stock photos, pre-designed and customizable theme templates and color schemes.

5. Simplify day-to-day website maintenance for business owners?
YES: Wix offers basic website management for free. Customers can add-on services as needed, an a la carte model to replace the previous comprehensive website management package. This eliminates unnecessary overly technical features and functions and saves the business money by cutting excess fees for unused services.

Long form original content: The Last Word on Books Will Be Written in Ink

The Last Word on Books Will Be Written in Ink

People say they smell funny. They are too heavy. They will probably make you drowsy. And if you are not careful, they will take over your home, spilling their anti- environmental propaganda into every room.

Such are today’s insults to the printed book. Why read books when you can spend your time looking at more exciting things, such as the star-studded, action-packed Hollywood version of a story? Dazzling technologic gadgets are the medium of the future. Anyone with an affinity for those clunky old- fashioned paper collections are perceived anchors to the past, slowing our progress toward innovation by preventing us from going warp speed ahead.

It is easy to assume the book is quickly losing its value in society. Electronic reading devices such as the Amazon Kindle or Barnes & Noble Nook condense thousands of pages into one handy screen. iPads and iPods play audio versions of novels. Meanwhile, the book continues to be printed in the same form as it always has been, absorbing the scorn of critics arguing it is a waste of resources and outdated by the time it reaches a bookshelf. Today’s youngsters read more Facebook status updates than pages in a novel. True as that may be, more books are published today than ever before – over 550,000 were published in 2009 alone. Whether or not they are actively read, books show no signs of going quietly into oblivion.

The enduring value of books rests heavily on the often hidden and undervalued world of independent and second-hand book shops. “I like the smell of older books, there is something in the pages that is comforting,” explains Tina, a senior at University of Massachusetts Boston studying economics. She prefers to browse at Brookline Booksmith, an independently-owned bookstore that sells new and used books. “Some days I can come and spend an hour browsing. Maybe I buy a book, maybe not, but I always find one that is interesting and read a bit from it.” She splits her time between the new book selection and used books, preferring the second-hand variety for its smell, price and the “sense of personality” that an old book has over a newly published one.

There is much to be appreciated in the business of old-fashioned book selling. Unlike the commercial bookstore chains, independent book sellers have the appeal of being just that- independent. They have moxie. They have history. They have loyalty to their trade. Most noteworthy, they have an immense determination to stick to an ink and paper industry against rising popularity of online media corporations that offer more publications at lower prices.

This month, Brookline Booksmith celebrates its 50th anniversary. Without the support of local old book lovers like Tina, Booksmith would not have made it to this point. In 1994, a Barnes & Noble opened down the street – not three blocks from Booksmith. Unable to compete with the prices and selection of Barnes & Noble, Booksmith’s profit fell flat for several years. Yet with the rise of Amazon in the 1990s, it was Barnes & Noble that struggled to keep pace, while Booksmith nimbly recalibrated its business model around the Brookline community. By 2009, Barnes & Noble closed its doors and Booksmith continued to welcome more local bibliophiles.

The dedicated small business owner has a motivation the corporate stores will never match: a fundamental, undying love for books. Sandra, the manager of Raven Used Books in Boston explains her theory.

“Printed books offer each person the same experience, whereas an electronic copy may vary according to the device on which it is read. No two people will have the same experience, as they would by reading the same copy of a book.”

The materialistic quality of the printed word is a tangible reminder of an experience, be it an imagination-arousing journey into Neverland or mentally exhausting lesson on quantum physics. Each book shows its signs of longevity, nuances of past owners from dog-eared pages to personalized inscriptions. Ownership of a book is interactive, engagingly tactile. Especially true for used books, each of which has passed through different hands or countries, faithfully telling the same story to each new owner. Joshua, a worker at Raven Used Books described, “These things are nearly alive, being surrounded by them makes me feel that, at any moment, they’ll come at me like in a bad horror film.” A glimpse behind the checkout counter at Raven and the sentiment is understood. Countless cardboard boxes swell with unsorted books. Piles upon piles of other text, sorted and queued for a spot on the shelf, clamor for floor space. “We have a steady flow of buying and selling,” Joshua explains, without a hint of irony. In the non- chain bookstore scene, Raven Used Books appears the opposite of many other bookstores, especially those specializing in second-hand books. Raven Used Books began in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 2005. It was so successful a second location was opened in Boston in 2010.

“These things are nearly alive, being surrounded by them makes me feel that, at any moment, they’ll come at me like in a bad horror film.”

The newer location, tucked into a small basement-style space welcomes visitors with a sense of intimacy that betrays the cheap horror film vibe felt by Joshua. The entire store is the size of a small studio apartment. Ample light filters down through the street- level windows. This place could be the cozy living room of a close, very well-read friend. Wooden shelves stretch from the hardwood floors to the ceiling, leaving a space large enough to fit a potted plant, the leaves of which dangle languorously onto the titles below it.

“I come here to bury my head in a book, to get away for awhile,” says Christy, a student of nursing at Simmons College. She uses one of the few step stools in the shop as a seat so she can peruse a nearly pristine second-hand copy of English Romantic Poetry: An Anthology. “I actually just finished a Masters in English Literature before I decided to get into nursing. But, I love being surrounded books, always have.”

On other shelves, books are stacked horizontally, systematically, filling all available space between the topmost shelf and ceiling. Upon close inspection, eerie lifelike energy emanates from these objects, their protruding spines seem to challenge probing eyes of visitors and threaten a collective avalanche upon the head of the browser who disturbs their fragile balance.

The caretakers of these printed souls are a uniquely cultivated, albeit modest, group. Understandably protective of their industry, they are quick to extol the virtues of reading. Raven’s manager, Sandra is one such character. It is almost possible to see her brain sifting through an internal Dewey Decimal-like categorization of the information found on shelves crowding her tiny bookstore as she carefully chooses the next words she will speak. “People come in here with no idea what they want and ask me for a recommendation. There was once a woman who said she wanted a book for her sister as a gift. Twenty minutes of discussion later, I found out she actually wanted to book for herself, to help her sort out trouble she was having with her father.”

It is no wonder places like Raven Used Books are thriving while the Borders Books chain fades from memory. There is a built-in expertise in the staff of a store that specializes in the dissemination of hand-picked knowledge. A personification of broad or niche interests, the bookshop owner is personally responsible for providing well-tended exploring grounds for his or her visitors. Each book is an intellectual investment. With limited space and nearly limitless books, every title that garners a spot on the shelf has to offer an experience that can translate into mutual, economic value for the bookstore and customer.

Despite the stale aroma of old paper – a symptom of the trade – and a suspiciously haphazard heaping of books onto every surface, much consideration goes into the collection and organization of an independent shop. “It’s analogous to reading a print edition of a newspaper as opposed to going online,” explains John Carroll, media analyst and professor of contemporary mass communication at Boston University. “You have all these accidental encounters with things you had no idea you were interested in and wind up walking out of the used book store with something you never would have looked for on Amazon.” Online readers are notorious for jumping from article to article, bouncing in and out of websites at their discretion, blithely unaware of information outside their usual awareness.

Boston is one of the few American cities with a healthy variety of independently owned and second-hand book stores. Within a five mile radius of the downtown area, there are 10 indie bookshops. American independence and the American publishing industry cross paths in Massachusetts. The early American printer Isaiah Thomas traces the first printer in the United States of America to Cambridge in 1639. “As soon as they had made provisions that were necessary for their existence in this land, which was then rude wilderness,” he writes in his History of Printing in America, referring to the first New England settlers, “their next objects were the establishment of schools and a printing press.” Traditionally, Boston emphasizes a progression of learning and preservation of historical facts and events.

Brattle Book Shop, Boston’s best-known used book store embodies the Americana spirit of traditional publishing. Founded in 1825, the shop is one of the oldest antiquarian book shops in the United States.

Quietly tucked into side street downtown, Brattle Book Shop’s unassuming exterior betrays the 250,000 titles packed inside its three story location. Books sprawl in all directions, stacked on tables, into every inch of bookshelves reaching to the 10-foot ceilings. Instead of a cozy living room feel, the interior of Brattle is as outdated and simple as the exterior of the old building in which it is housed. Here, the focus is books. They fill the rows of shelves, titles ranging from World War II to cocktail party etiquette. Century- old leather bound volumes share shelves with decades young paperbacks. A marble staircase leads to the topmost floor, the gem of Brattle, a sanctuary of rare publications and collector items.

“Brattle offers more variety than commercial bookstores,” says manager Zach Marconi. “Sellers of new books tend not to survive because it is an inefficient way of selling books. Yes, they have a large inventory, but it consists of all the same titles.” Competition for shops like Brattle come more from self-publishing online through companies like Amazon and publishing “on demand” than from commercial bookstores. Such publishing alternatives bypass publication companies, a terrific bargain for authors but a method that may exclude bookstores while threatening the uniqueness of indie shops’ offbeat publications. “Today, people are buying more books than ever, but from different means,” Marconi explains. His sentiment is supported by a 2009 study conducted by Bowker, a leading source of bibliographic information. Self-published books saw an increase of nearly 600,000 titles between 2006-2008, while traditionally published books remained at a steady 400,000.

People no longer turn to bookstores for specific books. Individual titles, particular excerpts, quotes, chapters can be found more readily online. “Any commodity can be divided and sold for its attributes,” said Marconi. The book and chapters included. Customers returning to shops like Booksmith, Raven or Brattle are in search of something greater than a stripped down source of data.

Marc, a self-proclaimed “bookstore troll” visits shops like Brattle to glimpse the past or discover a book that is interesting for its aesthetics. “As a photographer, I am drawn to the visual aspect of books. How they are designed, the typeface, et cetera. Occasionally I will find a print or an edition of some random book that will give me an idea for a project, or one that is visually very unusual. A lot of new books printed today are almost cookie

cutter, they just don’t have the richness of an older book that almost feels handmade.” Businesses in the trade of antique and used products are a place to treasure hunt, a haven for the wandering browser. Countless small pieces of our collective past are scattered, waiting to be discovered behind leather bound covers and faded jackets.

“Books are being revived as an object of beauty”

Today the Internet is the publication à la mode. Neither books nor newspapers can compete with the instantaneity of blogs, web-based publications or even Twitter if they are in the business of providing new information. Instead, books today are finding value in being the opposite of the Internet – bragging age and oftentimes, inaccuracy. “Books are being revived as an object of beauty,” says Brattle Book Shop employee Ellen Arnstein. “There is an incredible multifaceted value to books. If not for the intellectual element, there’s demand for the rare, unreproducible artistic elements.” Famously, the 1911 eleventh edition of Encyclopedia Britannica is nearly propaganda in many British-biased entries. It boasts medical, scientific and geographic inaccuracies, attitudes on society that are no longer relevant but will live forever as reminders of the past. Therein lies the value of the old book. Encyclopedia Britannica recently announced the end of print editions of its encyclopedias, citing a steady decline in demand for modern volumes. However, the coveted early editions will only increase in value as they age, becoming unique artifacts for generations.

Whether it is to adapt, to reclaim faded glory or to delay the inevitable, books and their bookshop refuge are evolving. It is an oversimplification to assume books are going the way of the compact disc and vinyl record before it. There is a better chance of finding a second-hand book store in Boston than a second-hand record store.

Factors threatening the tradition of buying books for learning or leisure multiply with the release of each new Internet-equipped technology. Information bombards us on every media, around every corner, vying for precious free time previously spent reading. When information is accessible and free through the Internet, it becomes harder to rationalize the purchase of another book. Perhaps, it may not be the book that is losing a foothold in our technology fixated culture – it may that we no longer cultivate the time and undistracted mind reading demands. If so, there may be no better cure than an good old- fashioned paperback.

John Keats could have been referring to the evolution of the book when writing his famous Endymion, a poem that has survived two centuries in no small part due to foresightful bookkeepers of yore:

A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases;
it will never Pass into nothingness;
but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.

– John Keats, 1818

Blog piece: Want to Win a Piece of History? Snap & Share #MuniHeritage This Week!

*Re-posted from original piece on MovingSF

by Staci Morrison
Monday, September 21, 2015

Colorful street scene of Chinatown in 1972 with a maroon and yellow Muni bus crossing the street.

For the fourth annual Muni Heritage Weekend taking place Sept. 26-27, the SFMTA is kicking off a photo contest to capture Muni’s history in motion through the eyes of photography-minded riders.

Here’s how to participate:

  1. Snap a photo that captures the essence of #MuniHeritage
  2. Share it on social media (FacebookTwitter or Instagram) now through Sunday (remember the hashtag!)
  3. Five lucky history lovers will win a limited edition poster photo reprint from the SFMTA Photo Archive and be mentioned here on the SFMTA blog!

Muni’s most photogenic vehicles will grace the streets this weekend at Market Street Railway Museum and along The Embarcadero – and they’re ready for their close-ups.

Share a favorite image from the “galleries on wheels” — buses installed with vintage photographs. Or show off the sweet skyline view aboard one of the famous 1934 open-air boat trams from Blackpool, England. If you chance upon one of Muni’s newly christened hybrid electric trolley coaches in action for the first time this weekend that works, too.

After snapping your picture-perfect #MuniHeritage scene, be sure to share the photo via TwitterInstagram or Facebook to enter the contest. Tag the SFMTA, and your post may be re-shared, too.

Five winners will be selected at random for prizes but all images may be featured in a contest roundup, so get out there and get creative!

Colorful historic streetcars in yellow, green and orange, sit on The Embarcadero with a blue sky overhead.

San Francisco provides the beautiful backdrop, SFMTA provides the vintage vehicles – all that’s missing is you (and the #MuniHeritage hashtag).

The contest opens today and closes upon conclusion of Muni Heritage Weekend on September 27. Full details outlined here. Muni Heritage Weekend runs from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. on September 26-27 at Market Street Railway in front of the Ferry Building.

For more information on Muni Heritage Weekend sights and rides, visit the event webpage.

And remember Saturday, September 26, is also the start of another wave of Muni Forward service increases so it will be a weekend of extra vehicles both new and old out serving the public and vying for that perfect shot.

Market Street, west of New Montgomery, in the first half of the 20th century.
Enter the contest to win a limited edition poster reprint of this photo or another historic gem from our archive.