The Tides Book Store (Closed)
749 Bridgeway, Sausalito, CA 94965 (See Map Below)
This storefront, built in 1887, has housed many a Sausalito business over the last 125+ years, but none has been as celebrated and as famous as The Tides Bookstore.
The Tides was founded by Herb Beckman and Bill Ryan on July 31, 1957, before Bridgeway and the rest of Sausalito turned into a tourist destination. In the late 1940’s and 1950’s Sausalito’s main street was a traditional small-town retail area, one that was actually slowing down with time while the rest of the Bay Area was speeding up. As has been said about many older American towns, “They rolled up the sidewalks at 5:00 PM,” meaning that everything closed down, people went home for dinner abnd then went to bed.
All of the commuter-focused businesses from the pre-Golden Gate Bridge era, when Bridgeway was a busy staging area for the car ferries to San Francisco, had gone away with the old ferries. What was left were hardware stores, a Rexall drug store with a lunch counter, a meat market and similar everyday places, along with some still-familiar restaurant locations with great views.
One of those restaurants was The Glad Hand (now Scoma’s), an outpost of Sausalito’s Bohemian community and the Beat Generation since its founding in 1951. The clusters of houseboats in the abandoned Marinship shipyard were the normal stomping grounds of these artists, writers and musicians, but The Glad Hand was also a watering hole. As the years went by more of the creative community’s influence appeared downtown, and the arrival of The Tides was a major milestone in the process.
Robert Peterson, a poet and one of the first winners of the National Endowment for the Arts Awards, and Don Umphreys joined Beckman and Ryan as partners, In 1958 Ryan started publishing the (short-lived) highly regarded literary magazine Contact upstairs in the building.
In July, 1965 a fire broke out on the top floor, but the Sausalito Fire Dept. was able to save the old building.
The Tides was decades ahead of its time, the Starbucks of the Beat Generation. People would talk over their coffee for hours, or sit down and read the book they just bought without even leaving the shop. Live music was a fixture. Like its spiritual cousin the City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco, The Tides was called out by publishers as a debut retailer for many especially important books. These retailers received their copies from early press runs, so they had greater influence and prestige than standard stores that sold just mainstream titles.
Over time the book store struggled, and changes were made in a quest to hold onto the business. More bookshelves gradually crowded out the tables until the coffee shop was a shadow of its former self.
In 1972 Beckman sold the Tides to fashion executive Queva Lutz and her partner Jerry Harrington, who hoped to revitalize the Tides with a larger and more diverse set of titles. They called the first floor “the thinker’s department” with psychology, philosophy, education, photography and poetry. Arts and crafts, art theory, and how-to and project books were in the basement, and they planned to make the walls into an art gallery. They preserved the tradition of the coffee house serving from 10:00 AM to 11:00 PM every day of the year except Christmas and New Year’s.
This second version of the Tides lasted until the late 1970’s, when it was supplanted by Upstart Crow, an attempt to bring back the spirit of the old Tides under a new name. The growing tourist traffic in Sausalito, however, meant rising rents downtown, and mega-bookstores in the 1980’s doomed this venture as well. The tradition of the artist-owned coffee house bookstore in downtown Sausalito ended.
Ironically, some of the same people involved in different eras of the Tides founded The Depot Bookstore in Mill Valley. As hard as it is for any Sausalitan to say that Mill Valley still has something we’ve lost, the Depot is in fact the surviving spiritual successor to the Tides. But if you ask me if I said that I’ll deny it.