Oakland’s Most Defiant Book Vendor

The story of Scott Nanos, the nomadic rare bookseller behind the new Lighthouse Books.

Lately, Scott Nanos spends most of his time tucked away in what resembles a fisherman’s shack alongside a marina near the Oakland estuary. The shack is actually a sturdy, little house styled to look like a seaside abode — one of a handful of such tiny buildings in “Embarcadero Cove Marina,” a kitschy offshoot of an otherwise spare stretch of Embarcadero. Inside one of those shack-like structures is the office of attorney Mahal Montoya, and inside the tiny lobby to Montoya’s two-room office is Lighthouse Books (1951 Embarcadero) — where Nanos often sits, surrounded by leather-bound tomes.

East Bay residents might recognize Nanos from the time he spent selling books on the street in Oakland last year. He’s spritely yet scruffy, with liberated, long black hair, charming round glasses, and dimples. His preference is to offer books to his community, and most things — including convention and practicality — come second to that. Lighthouse Books is just the latest illustration of the anarchic lengths he’ll go to keep peddling literature.

Nanos, who’s originally from the East Coast, came to the Bay Area on tour with his former band nearly four years ago. Once they made it across the country, they split up. With nowhere to go, Nanos found refuge in a bookstore in Piedmont and eventually ended up working there for a while. To make extra money, he consigned books that he collected in dollar bins and garage sales — rare books, radical books, books by authors of color — to other bookstores under the moniker Bibliodrone. But, around October of last year, Nanos’ hours got cut, and his consignment income wasn’t reliable.

That’s when Charlie Hallowell, the local restaurateur, called him up. Hallowell had been buying Nanos’ books, and offered to let him vend outside of his popular restaurant, Pizzaiolo. That same day, Nanos gathered all of his stock and set up outside the Temescal Italian eatery with a few crates and a blanket. And he did the same thing for twelve hours a day, nearly every day, for the next few weeks, storing his stock at Omni Commons overnight. It was grueling, he said, but he was selling more than he ever had before. Eventually, the property manager caught on and told Nanos to beat it. So, he tried Hallowell’s other restaurants, Boot and Shoe Service and Penrose in the Grand Lake district, but the hustle was never quite as good.

Finally, Nanos called his friend Gabriela Laz, who was running Rise Above Print Shop on 48th Street and Telegraph Avenue at the time. Laz had been evicted because the Nautilus development group bought the building (see feature “Radically Sharing Temescal,” 1/21). She was in the gradual process of moving out when Nanos asked her if he could vend outside. Laz agreed, and eventually let Nanos move inside when rain started impeding his sales. Then, one day in November of last year, a local illustrator involved with Rise Above suggested that Nanos turn the space into a temporary bookstore. In a fit of rebellious excitement, Nanos’ artistic friend began spray-painting signage all over the windows and walls in playful script. Meanwhile, Nanos lugged every book he owned over to the space and began setting up shop.

Remarkably, for nearly ten months, Nanos happily claimed the space for free. He posted up as Books for Days, and welcomed in whoever wandered by. But by early September, luck had run out. The Nautilus project manager finally demanded that he leave.

Still, Nanos found luck elsewhere. Montoya, who had been a client of Nanos, offered him space in her office at an affordable price. And John Windle, an antique bookseller and acquaintance of Nanos’, decided to clear out his storage, leaving all his extra stock in Nanos’ hands. That’s how he found himself in his new lighthouse, with shelves of leather-bound, antique books alongside his usual collection of writing on metaphysics, radical politics, feminism, and liberational theology.

Lighthouse Books isn’t Nanos’ ideal new space, because there is virtually no foot traffic and no means of public transportation to get there, but he still sees it as the most recent in a series of charitable blessings that have graced him over the past year. That list includes all the donations he’s received through his recent GoFundMe campaign (GoFundMe.com/Bibliodrone) asking for financial help to support his move. But when he’s not at the new shop, he’ll be back out on the street peddling books in busier areas — back to where he was this time last year.


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