I began visiting Sawyer’s News in high school. My favorite bookstore, Merritt Book Center, which was located in downtown Sebastopol, closed down while I was a sophomore in high school. At Merritt, I bought photography magazines, as well as books. These weren’t just mainstream magazines like you’d find at Safeway such as Pop Photo, or Modern Photography, but more creative photo magazines.
Along with magazines Merritt had an extensive book selection. I spent hours there, browsing the fantasy and science fiction section, admiring the covers by Boris Vallejo and Frank Frazetta. A friend of mine’s mother worked there, which made my visit doubly fun.
With Merritt closed, my nearest deep shelf where I could buy magazines was Sawyer’s News in Santa Rosa. Sawyer’s offered an even broader selection of magazines than Merritt. Sawyer’s offered newspapers from other cities, such as Sacramento and New York. It was a block over from Unruh’s Photo, which was everyone’s favorite photography store in Sonoma County, so I often visited both on the same trip. At Sawyer’s, I could find photography magazines imported from Europe and other countries outside of the US. Zoom was one of my favorites, and one of the most expensive.
For decades I shopped there, even during a period when I’d moved away from Sonoma County. I've never found a store like Sawyer’s. Not Barnes and Noble, not Border’s, no place.
As time passed, Bill Unruh retired, and a new owner took over Unruh’s cameras, though it closed not long afterward under dark circumstances. And later, during an economic contraction, Sawyer’s also closed, in part I suspect, due to the competition of the Barnes and Noble down the street.
I’d thought that all record of Sawyer’s News had disappeared, but on a recent visit to Santa Rosa, while wandering the streets, I came across this outline on the back of the former store. Ivy had covered the wall, and once it was removed fascinating patterns on the wall were exposed as well as the old “Sawyer’s News: Since 1936” sign painted near the top.
Was the wall black and the ivy somehow created these white imprints? Perhaps, though I suspect that the wall was once light and years of dirt and soot accumulated, hidden by vine, to be exposed once the ivy was pulled down. This image captures my feelings about Sawyer’s perfectly.