Related Articles: Books, All

Chronicle Books

A Cheery Treasure Trove

There are plenty more pleasant holiday shopping experiences to be had than knocking elbows with competitive chain store shoppers. Rather than steering for the mall, there are plenty of local shops and boutiques to set your course for. One of the newest destinations on your list should be the new Chronicle Books store that opened Nov 8th on Union Street. Hitting its fortieth birthday this year, the San Francisco publishing house has finally expanded beyond its cozy floor space in the Metreon into a full-fledged bookstore and the results are to cheer for.

Chronicle Books was founded in 1967 and offers a wide breadth of titles in a diverse range of subjects from design, art, architecture and photography to cooking, wines, travel guides, pop culture, children’s books and writers’ tools. In fact their offerings have expanded beyond the book in the traditional sense to encompass a Gift division that includes address books, journals, greeting cards, crafting kits and more.

Currently the front window display boasts an array of products from local fine artist and graphic designer Rex Ray, whose art book Art + Design hit in September. Some of his beautifully designed and colorful large artworks are displayed gallery-style in the Chronicle Books shop and he will be on hand Saturday, Dec 1st at the store’s grand opening celebration for book signing from 5pm - 6pm.

With a style that has been described as “abstract and handcrafted, with a retro-futuristic mid-century feel”, Ray’s pieces can be found on the walls of design-conscious hotels, museums and hip restaurants. Art + Design is a wondrous collection of his works in many mediums and would serve as an inspiration to anyone who appreciates design. The pieces on the right wall as you walk in and the back wall are well worthy of some lingering time and longing glances.

Cubbyholes take the place of bookshelves for neatly inviting organization. As you enter the space, immediately to your right you will find a selection of books around the theme of beautification, from the inside out: Eat, Drink and Be Gorgeous: A Nutritionist’s Guide to Living Well While Living It Up by Esther Blum; A Gracious Welcome - Etiquette for Entertaining Houseguests by Amy Nebens; The Personal Organizing Workbook - Solutions for a Simple, Easy Life by Meryl Starr (way better than a subscription to Real Simple magazine) and gifts from the Smart Women series are a small sampling.

If you’re unfamiliar with the Smart Women catalog of products, check out the Smart Women Stay Organized Desk Kit ($15.95) which includes a notepad, sticky notes, pencil and eraser, mini stapler, stickers and “smart tip” booklet, or the Smart Women Put It In Writing journal ($16.95), a cheeky empowering gift to women of any age, complete with colored pencils bearing sayings such as “Smart Women Speak for Themselves” and “Smart Women Lead Colorful Lives”.

In small but thick volumes you will find the 1001 series: 1001 Dreams, 1001 Meditations, 1001 Pearls of Buddhist Wisdom and more. These make great bathroom readers or little stocking stuffers.

For those on your list that are soon-to-be or already newlyweds or parents, the Chronicle Books store carries a variety of appropriate titles as well in the neighboring cubbyholes including Bride and Groom: First and Forever Cookbook by Mary Corpening Barber and Sara Corpening Whiteford and How to Con Your Kid - Simple Scams for Mealtime, Bedtime, Bathtime – Anytime! by David Borgenicht.

Other sections include a corner filled with children’s books, coloring books and journals for recording childhood memories, a sizeable collection of culinary and wine-related books and boxed recipe collections, cubbyholes devoted to K9s and species of the feline and avian varieties, and let’s not forget the “naughty” section that includes Position of the Day: Expert Edition ($12.95) and Sex Every Day in Every Way ($9.95) both from the sexperts at

Especially noteworthy is Chronicle Books’ collection of interactive products: craft kits and card decks on a plethora of subjects make great gifts. The “City Walks” series consists of a deck of cards with a map on one side and a description of the places you should stop and visit along the way, with the idea that you simply carry a couple cards with you at a time for each outing. At $14.95 these decks are not only affordable but promise an adventure beyond the typical tourist outing. On a whim I purchased the Amsterdam City Walk set at the airport en route and I now swear by these sets. At the shop you will find decks on New York, LA, Vancouver, London, Paris, Rome, Tuscany and more.

Decks in other subjects include the Cupcake Deck, Wine Deck, Martini Deck, Cocktail Food Deck and Erotic Massage Deck to name just a few. The last would be a great gift (hint) to your better half if massage is your thing. Craft kits range from a variety of knitting, crocheting, jewelry-making and sewing kits to a Sunlight Print Kit. In the needlecraft section you will find the “community scarf”: a scarf that is being knit by Chronicle Books visitors. When completed, the scarf will be auctioned for charity.

A substantial and stylish selection of correspondence/stationery sets, journals, address books and gift wrap sets can be found around the shop. Some highlights are Sukie gift products (whimsically charming nature and creature-inspired stationery sets, correspondence cards and sticky notes), note card sets designed by Jill Bliss and letterpress correspondence cards and notebooks by Hammerpress, a letterpress/design studio based in Kansas City, Missouri. Lotta Jansdotter’s nature-themed journals are also quite sweet -- one has been packaged with gardener’s hand salve ($19.95) and would make a perfect gift for the green thumb in your life.

On top of all this, Chronicle Books also carries attractive vases from Sausalito-based Heath Ceramics, sustainably produced organic olive oils and soaps from McEvoy Ranch, Bambu lacquered bowls handmade in China and Vietnam out of organically grown bamboo and lacquer derived from cashew nut trees, and sustainable products from Branch that include fair trade knit toys hand-knit by a collective of women in rural Kenya as well as felt Winepocket wine bottle totes handmade by Oakland’s JoshJakus.

Sure, you can find titles published by Chronicle Books in many bookstores and even on Amazon, but there is something nice about being able to step into the brick and mortar haven on Union Street for a spell. Buying directly from the publisher and avoiding the distractions and chaos of the Metreon are two of many great incentives for coming to the store. For a visual treat make sure you visit soon while Rex Ray’s art is still up, though the next installation is sure to be no-less stunning.