In the heart of SoMa Pilipinas, San Francisco’s Filipino Cultural Heritage district, you will find one of the only Filipinx book distributors in the country – Arkipelago Books. A Filipina-owned business, currently run by Lily Prijoles, Golda Sargento, Ley Ibrada and Charity Ramilo.
Marie Romero opened the bookstore 20 years ago, and it has been a resource for academics and students, a destination for tourists, and a hub for Filipinx literature, culture and community.
Founded in 1994, originally as Sulu Books, Marie Romero, started the business in a small office space on 6th and Harrison. She was looking for Filipinx-themed books for her own children, but could only find them in the Philippines. As she grew her children’s collection of books, she would loan them out to friends and not get them back. She quickly realized there was a need for these books in the Filipinx American community, and so she started the business. As they grew, they moved to the Mint Mall on Mission Street and were renamed Arkipelago Books. When the Bayanihan Community Center opened around 1999, it made an affordable space available to Arkipelago, and they have been there ever since.
A San Francisco destination
Arkipelago is located at 1010 Mission Street in the Bayanihan Community Center, in the heart of San Francisco’s newest Cultural Heritage District, SOMA Pilipinas – which stretches from 2nd to 12th streets, from Market to Folsom. SOMA stands for “South of Market” and has been home to Filipinx families, businesses and social services for decades. Also in the neighborhood is Bindlestiff Studio, the epicenter of Filipinx and Filipinx American arts, and VEC, Veterans Equity Center which lends aid to Filipino Veterans and their families.
This humble bookstore has become a destination for visitors from around the country and world including New York, Canada, Australia, the Pacific Northwest, Alaska, Italy, Dubai and the Philippines.
A rare collection
With some Filipinx publishers having secondary headquarters outside of the Philippines, they can be responsive to Amazon customers, however other publications and publishers have high shipping costs and smaller book runs making some books harder to come by or out of print. Arkipelago’s buyers are able to go to different markets and publishers in the Philippines, finding in demand books or specific books by name that are then balikbayan-boxed to the store in San Francisco.
Currently, Arkipelago’s most popular books are about pre-colonial Philippines, natural and holistic arts, young/new adult fiction, cutting edge comics and graphic novels, science fiction, Filipinx mythology, ancient tattoo and craft, martial arts, language tutorials, and multilingual children’s books.
Filipinx graphic novels
In the month of July, Arkipelago features graphic novels, one of their most popular categories. Look out for Tresé vol. 1-6 by Budjette Tan, Tabi Po by Mervin Malonzo, Ugh by Hulyen, and Elmer by Gerry Alanguilan. Other collaborations involve publishing KATATAGAN by Jeannie Barroga, an insightful look at Bay Area Filipinos in Theater, and a series of plays by legendary Tongue In A Mood. Look out for author book readings and releases, and find them tabling at Filipinx festivals in the Bay Area, including SOMA Pilipinas night market, UNDSCVRD SF, beginning July 20.
For more information on Arkipelago, visit arkipelagobooks.com or visit the store at 1010 Mission St., San Francisco, CA 94103.