Customers, authors and friends create a "book brigade" to help move inventory to a new location.

Act I. Saturday, February 27, 9 a.m. A line of people two blocks long is passing books hand to hand to help a bookstore move to a new home up the street. A fire truck filled with kids is driving up and down the block displaying a banner announcing the store's move, and the kids are waving at surprised pedestrians and early shoppers. Police cordon off the surrounding two streets for book lovers. Booksellers from competing stores around the Bay Area, along with sales reps, agents and local writers, are lending a hand to actually move the store-as well as publicize the event.

Act II. Saturday, noon. Kids and booklovers finish the last of the work, and are now chatting and browsing for their favorite books.

This show of dedication and enthusiasm for an independent bookstore took place in San Francisco's N Valley neighborhood, at Cover to Cover, now situated at 3812 24th St.

The store, founded by Nicky Salan, had been at its former location, two blocks away, for 16 years. Salan started the store 26 years ago, selling books out of the basement of her home. The new space, occupying the bottom floor of an apartment complex is, at roughly 2800 square feet, almost three times larger.

"We signed the lease just a month ago," said Susan Talbott, a former employee and now, with Mark Ezarik, in the process of becoming one of Salan's new partners. "For days our customers had been coming in and helping us get ready, vacuuming, moving shelves, you name it." (The move was made financially feasible when Talbott and Ezarik, also a former employee, began buying individual shares of the corporation to become partners.) Reps were scheduled to come in the weeks after the move and, according to Talbott, everything has happened so fast that the store owners don't know how many titles they will carry. "We're still figuring it out," she said.

But the move isn't more than they can handle, according to author Walter Mayes, better known throughout the Bay Area as Walter-the-Giant-Storyteller.

"Cover to Cover epitomizes a grassroots bookstore," said Mayes. "During the move, there were reps from Holt, Little, Brown, Penguin Putnam and Random House. Some are retired, some are still working. Booksellers have come from as far away as San Jose and Corte Madera," Mayes added. "There were also authors and teachers here. We've all benefited from the store's service and integrity."

Booksellers from Stacy's, as well as The Booksmith, Christophers and Hicklebee's Bookstore, were passing books in line, along with children's author Robert San Souci, who lives in the neighborhood. He comes in two or three times a week, he said, emphasizing, "They've built true friendships and community ties. This is really what an independent is all about. It's heartwarming to see them not only survive, but expand."

Though it is a general bookstore, Salan's great love is children's books, and the store is known for its four-foot-tall Elmo (from Sesame Street), which Salan said has been "kissed, hugged-spit on," by most of the kids of N Valley. Children made up a large part of the participants passing books down the block-one at a time-but it was the adults who started the "wave" by dancing in tandem. Salan's son Fred, a fireman, was able to finagle the Fire Department into loaning the truck. Mauricio Vela, executive director of the nearby Banal Heights Neighborhood Center, pitched in as well. "Nicky has been so great to our kids," he said.

"When you can still have a sense of community from a bookstore, it's worth its weight in gold," said Hickelbee's owner Valerie Lewis, co-author with Mayes of Valerie &Walter's Best Books for Children: A Lively, Opinionated Guide (Avon), who came all the way up from San Jose for the "brigade." The drama continued with Act III, an all-day and -night reading gala and "official grand opening" planned for April 17. According to customers, Cover to Cover has an old-fashioned feel, although with its new balcony and open space, it is a nice change from the cramped quarters of the old store. "They know us," one book lover said. "We're all on a first-name basis here."