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SF’s First Lesbian-Owned Comic Book Shop Opens in the Mission

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Leah Morrett is the owner of Sour Cherry Comics, a new queer-centric bookstore and community space in the Mission District that opened at 3187 16th St. earlier this month. 

“Sour cherries are not sweet, and that’s the point,” she tells me. “[The name’s] a little subversive, a little cutesy, and a little edgy.” 

Originally from Boston, Morrett moved to San Francisco in 2014 to pursue an MFA in writing at California College of the Arts, but she was quickly overwhelmed by the financial demand of higher education. 

“It was super cool, but very expensive,” she says. “I had to drop out after one semester.”

Morrett remained in San Francisco, working various retail jobs. When she was furloughed at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, she viewed the loss of her job as an opportunity.

Inspired by local queer-owned businesses like Glama-Rama and Milk SF, Morrett decided to pursue her longtime dream of opening a comic book shop. 

Sour Cherry Comics celebrated its soft opening on March 1, but its grand opening weekend will take place on May 7-8.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Morrett about realizing her vision for the shop, and what is still yet to come. Stay tuned for movie nights, book club meetings, writing groups, and kid-centered events.

Sour Cherry Comics is truly a gift to the neighborhood.

The Sour Cherry Comics storefront at 3187 16th Street. (Photo courtesy Leah Morrett)

Congratulations on your shop’s soft opening! How did it go?

Leah Morrett: It went really great! A lot of people who have been following along on the Instagram page showed up, which was really cool. I really enjoyed it. 

Can you tell me a little bit about your background, and how you weathered the onset of the pandemic in 2020?

LM: I worked in and out of retail since I was like 15. Then I had some varying jobs while I was [in San Francisco]. I worked at a small advertising company, I worked at Equinox, and then I worked at Everlane. That was probably my favorite job, so I ended up staying there for two years up until the pandemic, and then we obviously had to close and we got furloughed. That was a bummer. 

I ended up finding a dentist’s office right before my benefits were about to expire, and that was fine. Then I realized after a while that it wasn’t really working for me…The best part of the job was interacting with people. That’s why I liked retail. But I’m a very things-oriented person, so that’s the other reason I love retail—I get to engage with products. With clothing, it’s fun, but I’ve always loved books and comics. 

When did the original vision for the shop start forming? How did it all come together?

LM: I had always dreamed of opening a bookstore or comic bookstore, and I knew that my job at the dentist’s office wasn’t permanent. It was a small business, and [the dentist] had given me all the raises she could give me. I knew it wasn’t a career move. I had been there for almost two years, and I knew it was time to start thinking about what’s next. So I stayed up all night developing my business plans, and trying to figure out logistically how I could make this work because I knew this is what I wanted to do. 

I went to a one-on-one meeting hosted by Manny’s at the Lookout. It was a queer small business development mentoring program, and I met some really cool people there. I was like, this is what I’m trying to do: First and foremost,  graphic novels, books, and comics that either have queer-focused themes, or are written or illustrated by women. They gave me some really good advice. 

The interior of Sour Cherry Comics, featuring the shop dog, Benny.

Have you managed to pull off this opening on your own? Are there any other co-owners?

LM: I embarked on this myself. There are no other co-owners, or anyone else involved. I’m doing an SF LGBT entrepreneurship program and there’s a small grant involved, so I’m really excited. 

I will say I’ve had a lot of help. A lot of people were super supportive. All of the other bookstore owners in the city have been amazing, especially Avi [Ehrlich] at Silver Sprocket, Leef [Smith] at Mission Comics, and Frank [McGinn] at Amazing Fantasy

In your mind, what’s the appeal of a lesbian-owned comic book shop?

LM: This is a women-led space. A lot of comic book stores have a lot of masculine energy and generally the same aesthetic. I love [these comic book stores] and I grew up in them, but the idea is more cute. [I want the shop to be] somewhere where girls can walk in and feel comfortable, whereas I remember when I started going through puberty, I started becoming less comfortable going into comic stores. 

Some guys walk in here and they’re like, “Is this a comic book store for girls?” I’m like, “Sure, I guess? That seems somewhat reductive, but okay.” It’s for everyone. That’s the idea. 

Cultivating a writing community here at the shop seems especially important to you. Can you tell me a little bit about what inspired that drive?

LM: There’s a really great group called “Queer Bedtime Stories” that’s founded by Scott Sessions. What he’ll do once a month at Milk SF is a little group where everybody gets together and we tell queer stories, and it can be any kind of writing. The first time I went, I ended up reading a poem that I had written. I figured it would actually be nice to read it aloud because I haven’t been in the atmosphere to workshop any of my work after I dropped out of my grad program. 

I loved that atmosphere of being surrounded by other writers. This is why people who have MFA’s are published—It’s because you spend two years being in the environment where you’re reading your work aloud, and other people are looking at it. But I started questioning why you had to pay thousands of dollars to be in that environment. You shouldn’t have to be. You should be able to just go to a group somewhere, and why don’t we have these groups? How about [we organize] a group for MFA dropouts, or people who just like to write and don’t know where to begin? I wanted to provide a space where writers could just get together and read our work.

Sour Cherry Comics sells zines and totes. The tote pictured here was screen painted by shop owner Leah Morrett.

How do you select inventory for the shop? What are you drawn to?

LM: When I was doing my pop-ups, I had a much smaller selection because my house was my storage. I could only fit so much in my little carts, so I was able to be really selective. I picked a lot of queer-focused books and books written by women. I stuck to trade paperbacks because that’s the easiest and they don’t get as damaged. Since moving in here, I’ve been able to get some single issues, and I have a bunch more on the way. 

A lot of [the inventory] is what I’ve read already and have been obsessed with, [books] that resonated with me as a queer woman. I also select books that look interesting. Of the literature, I tend to focus on YA (Young Adult) as a genre, along with political memoirs and biographies. I want my views to be reflected. 

One of your most recent promotions features Street Sheet vendor Stanley Michael Jackson. How did you two meet?

LM: There are two Street Sheet vendors who hang out on this street, and they’re both super nice. Their names are Stanley Michael Jackson and Slayyter. Stanley’s here more frequently. He came in, we were chatting, and he mentioned that his birthday was March 10, and that he’d be featured in the Street Sheet. Street Sheet is a newspaper run by the Coalition on Homelessness. Most of the contributors are in transitional housing or are homeless, or have been homeless. [It features] a lot of poetry and prose, as well as journalism. 

For Stanley’s birthday, which is Thursday, I’ll do 10% off of everything in the store if you show proof of donation to Stanley (accepted via Venmo). I’ll probably extend the promo through this weekend. That’s partly why I’m really happy to have a space. In general, community space and writer support is really important to me, but so is giving back to vulnerable community members.

From left: Stanley Michael Jackson, Leah Morrett, and Morrett’s shop dog, Benny.

Check out the list of shop events this month HERE.

Support Stanley Michael Jackson via Venmo by sending payments to @street-sheet and writing “Stanley Jackson #139” in the Venmo note.

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Lydia Sviatoslavsky

Lydia Sviatoslavsky

Lydia Sviatoslavsky covers culture and curiosities for Bay City News and Broke-Ass Stuart. She publishes artist interviews and experimental writing at thought-rot.net. You can find her on Instagram at @rot_thought.

2 Comments

  1. March 9, 2022 at 4:03 pm — Reply

    This shop looks rad. I can’t wait to swing by this week and check it out.

  2. Cadence
    March 10, 2022 at 4:30 pm — Reply

    Cool place!

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