Necia (Nicky) Salan, founder of Cover to Cover, a San Francisco bookselling institution renowned for placing children’s books in equal prominence as adult books, died at her home on October 10, after a long illness. She was 77.
Long before she opened her store in 1976, Salan loved children’s books so much she actually sold titles from her San Francisco home on Saturdays when her children were young. “I am so lucky I had that woman train me,” said Tracy Wynne, a Cover to Cover employee who, with colleague Mark Ezarik, bought the store from Salan when she retired in 1999. (They closed the store this winter.)
“She was a good strong bookseller in everything, but I never met anyone like her with children’s books,” said Wynne. “She and Shirley Masengill—we’ve lost two such lions.” Masengill, who worked in several Bay Area independent bookstores, died in February.
Valerie Lewis remembers meeting Salan shortly after she opened her store, Hicklebee’s in San Jose, in 1979. “I was new in the business of books and had my ideas of what bookselling was about. And then I met Nicky,” she said. “It was then I discovered I was stepping into more than a cute book boutique. I needed to be an ass-kicking community organizer. I watched her demand of all of us that we rise up and be heard. She helped us turn the business of children's books into a thriving market. She wouldn’t stand for less.”
Hut Landon, who is now the executive director of the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association, recalls meeting Salan about 25 years ago when he was a bookseller member. Back then, children’s books were relegated to a committee within the organization. Today, NCIBA is one of the only regional trade groups that still has its own children’s booksellers association within in. “One of the big reasons for that is Nicky Salan,” said Landon. “She not only helped put children’s books on the map, she insisted that children’s books could draw the same kind of attention in the bookstore as any other genre of books.”
Salan, who was thrilled to have seen her beloved San Francisco Giants win the World Series last year, was known to complete sales rep orders while at the ballgame. “You never got a bad order out of Nicky,” said Bob Belmont, Penguin’s Bay Area rep. “She’d find something on your list. And when she got into something it would sell.”
Wynne, who now works at the Books Inc. in Alameda, remembered how, when the U.S. editions of the first Harry Potter were sold out, Cover to Cover sold so many imported U.K. editions that it helped pave the way for simultaneous editions going forward. Because of Salan’s ability to spot talent early, the big names she helped launched returned for in-store events after they made it, Wynne observed, and publishers eagerly sent new authors and illustrators in hopes that they’d get the coveted Salan nod.
Born in Baltimore, Salan graduated from Barnard College in 1955. She is survived by her daughter Debra, son Fred and grandsons Aram, Daniel and Marco. In lieu of flowers, the family requested that contributions be made to the Nicky Salan Library Fund at Grattan School, 165 Grattan St., San Francisco, CA 94117 or to another charity of choice.