Is there a better cure for insomnia than a good book? Screens make you nervous. Book pages calm you. However, the newest bookstore in the mission, Nightmare Medicine, tells of a catastrophe far greater than insomnia.
“The store is named after the nightmare we live in,” said co-owner Tân Khánh Cao. “It is largely controlled by white power structures.”
Co-owner Josiah Luis Alderete picks up where his business partner left off, explaining that an effective antidote to the discomfort of our society can be found in the book. “As a Chicano, literature is the antidote to nightmares,” he explained. “That’s what you can find here.”
This interpretation perfectly captures how co-owners work together, a pair of elegant hugs, completing each other’s ideas and balancing each other. They like to joke that they’re a couple — but only if they give birth to this big, demanding baby that occupies the bookstore they spend all their time.
The store opened in November last year, and its former owner-Longtime San Francisco bookseller Kate Lazzo– Decided to sell Alley Cat Books. Alderete and Cao take over with founder JK Fowler Oakland Nomad Pressafter which he left the bookstore to return to his other projects.
Both have previously worked at City Lights Booksellers & Publishers, where they address the lack of diversity in their industry by providing community books that represent the people who live here—not as a niche or separate segment, but as a general Literature and Medicine.
“It was tiring, and all the excuses were used,” Cao said. “Watching a group of people talk about doing work without making any changes.”
Cao and Alderete have created a vital and beloved space for the community. Kids come in to hang out and read, and the store is hosting 22 events this month alone. There is space for music, poetry readings and a gallery, with exhibits that change almost every month.
“It feels so good to be a neighborhood bookstore,” Cao said.
Alderete argues that because of City Lights and its association with Beats, North Beach was wrongly identified as San Francisco’s literary neighborhood.
“Mission is the literary heart of the city,” he said, pointing to Alejandro Murguía (2012-2015), a former San Francisco poet laureate.Comedian, writer and performer Marga Gomez; Flor Y Canto Literary Festival, and other nearby cultural institutions such as Lhasa Gallery and Brava Theater.
When a San Francisco State University student was taking a class on community organizations in the back, Alderete didn’t hesitate to welcome her in.
“Es su casita,” he said.