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One for the books: bookstore owner opens up about love, life and loss

Editor’s Note: The following story was produced as part of Acción Latina’s media internship program Chicas y Mujeres Poderosas, which launched in January 2018. The internship gave young women, ages 13-17, training in journalism, an industry that remains largely male dominated. El Tecolote will be publishing their final projects periodically. This story was written by DeLara Armijo, 13, of Marina Middle School.

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Can you balance three different things at once? Local bookshop owner, artist and single mother Kate Rosenberger can. On most days she paints for four hours in the morning and runs her three bookshops during the day. On days when she has her daughter Hazel, they spend as much time together as possible.

As owner of Alley Cat Books on 24th Street, Dog Eared Books on Valencia Street, and Dog Eared Books in the Castro, Kate sets a certain vibe to her stores. When you walk in, it’s like sipping your favorite cup of coffee. Kate herself is as cool as coffee, and the books have that certain smell of knowledge and content. Her artwork, displayed in her stores, can give you a new perspective, as you tilt your head on the side. The 80s music making everyone tap their foot, softly hum or lip sync as they choose their book. Kate loves her family and friends very much, possibly as much as she loves her bookstores, since the feel of it gives her a warm “being at home” feeling.

“I paint full size animals a lot, I grew up on a farm,” Kate says about her birthplace in Wisconsin. “My folks had some land and we grew corn, and that turned into soybeans eventually, and we had a bunch of animals.” Kate, who goes by the name “Kate Akimbo” for her art, says she gets inspiration for her art from everywhere, especially animals.

A hard moment she has been through during her 13 years as a mother, is seeing her daughter Hazel become a teenager, Kate says. “I can empathize with it … going through all of these changing identities, and it’s hard to watch my daughter go through that sometimes ‘cause there’s no road map.”

Hazel is a soccer player, writer, cook and cello player. Just like her mother, she is a multi-tasker, which is not easy since she lives in two different households. “She has the most interesting observations about life. I just love talking to her,” says Kate.

According to a Bay Area Reporter article from 2016, Kate knew she wanted to work with books when she started working at Half Priced Books in Berkeley (which is now closed). “From the first day, I knew I loved working in a bookstore,” she says in the article.

Kate’s thoughts on ebooks are pretty fair: “They are a convenience for when you’re traveling and you wanna carry a bunch of books and can’t decide on which book to carry.”

She explained that a lot of people get ebooks for Christmas, but Amazon really wanted to get book readers to buy their own instead.

“Jeff Bezos tried to put me out of business. When he started up Amazon, he went after the booksellers first, because he thought that books were easy to ship … and he thought if he could hook that audience then he could do anything else. So, I took that personally.”

Kate hopes for her bookshops to keep thriving, growing and maintain their leases. “I currently have some very good landlords, so I’m hopeful about that,” she says. “And I hope that people continue to be interested in printed word, which I think they will.”

Kate also opened up about her deceased partner, Michael Roman.

“I love his art, and he’s brilliant. He’s absolutely brilliant. It’s hard to talk about him in the past … He was one of the most intelligent, most interesting people I’ve ever met.”

They met when Michael came into Dog Eared Valencia with a piece of artwork he wanted to sell. After 20 years of Michael coming in to sell his art, one Valentine’s Day he asked to stencil outside the store, and after he did, he asked to take Kate out for a bite to eat. “And that was it. That was hook, line and sinker.”

Six years into their relationship, Michael developed a number of health problems. In December of 2016, Michael died in Kate’s arms.

“He was very scared to die, and he was at home with me for three weeks in the dying process,” she says. “And when he finally crossed, it was at 10:15 in the morning, and, he just took this big breath and spat up this little red thing, and then, a big exhalation and that was it. And his spirit left his body, and his spirit moved, in a horizontal level. It was incredibly profound … I sat with his body for four hours.”

Kate explains that Michael was a very funny person, recalling one date in particular.

“Michael hadn’t been to the ocean for a long time. We went to Ocean Beach and he took his shoes off, and he was half-drunk … he leaned over at one point, into the ocean, and his glasses fell off into the water,” she remembers.  “Michael can only see out of one eye, so he’s pretty blind without his glasses. But he turns to me and he says, ‘Don’t worry, they’ll be back.’” He never did find the glasses.

Story by: DeLara Armijo