“LOVE WAS IN THE AIR,” says Fred Martin of the days when he and Browser Books were both young.
And on many nights, it still is.
“This place is magic,” he says of the bookstore, where he has worked for 36 of its 40 years as it grew into a landmark on Fillmore Street. “People love this place. They get caught up in interesting conversations.”
And sometimes more. Many lasting connections have been made in Browser Books: couples on dates uncovering mutual interests, spouses returning to a favorite haunt, chance meetings that grow into romance.
The store is filled with love stories — from the stacks of Neruda that sell out on Valentine’s Day, to Romeo and Juliet on high school reading lists, and the middle-aged professional proudly unembarrassed to ask for Fifty Shades of Grey.
“It’s the most realistic portrait of the romantic idea of working in a bookstore I’ve ever had,” says Jordan Pearson, the newest of the Browser clerks. “It’s being a bartender without the liquor — and sometimes I wish I had a bouncer late at night.”
“I always feel like I’m the party host,” says Fred Martin. “I want the store to be a place where people can be at home and talk about anything. I love being part of that.”
Browser Books opened in 1976 a block north next door to the Clay Theatre.
“It was a real artist hangout,” says Martin. He recalls a couple who met in the old store and got married under the avocado tree in the garden out back, near the fountain with a sculpture of brass instruments. Just recently they stopped by, back in town from Oregon, and talked about moving back.
In 1989 Browser gave up used books and moved south to its smaller current location.
“We’re not just a little library, like a lot of other places,” says Martin. “People have always been friendly and outspoken here.”
The Beat poet Latif Harris worked at the old Browser for a time and lived upstairs above the shop. He met his wife when she came browsing into the store one day. Fred Martin also met his spouse there. And so have others.