Book Passage History

When she started in the book business in 1976, Book Passage founder and president Elaine Petrocelli had the goal of creating the best possible bookstore for the people of Marin County.

She and her husband/partner, Bill Petrocelli, had the vision of a unique book business—one that would bring the world to Marin County as well as bring Marin County to the world. The ongoing support of the people of Marin and the Bay Area, as well as the wonderful efforts of the booksellers at Book Passage, has allowed them to achieve much of what they set out to do.

Book Passage has been an innovator in bringing the world’s finest authors to the Bay Area. Presidents and prelates, network anchors and front-line journalists, Nobel Prize-winners and first time novelists—all have been part of the thousands of authors who have spoken at Book Passage.

Book Passage currently averages more than 700 author events per year, and the authors who speak at both the Marin County and San Francisco stores cover every conceivable subject, with events for people of all ages and interests. Many of these events are held as benefits for local charitable organizations. In the past few years Book Passage author events and other programs have helped raise money for Hospice by the Bay, Marin Community Clinics, Buckelew Programs, Canal Community Alliance, Marin Abused Women Services, Marin Aids Projects, Breast Cancer Action, Performing Stars, Marin Literacy Project, and many other programs.

Book Passage has also created a unique program of in-store classes designed for people who want to learn more about writing and the book business. These programs draw teachers and students from all over the nation, and many of the students have gone on to become published authors.

In addition to the classes, Book Passage hosts three annual writing conferences: Mystery Writers Conference, Conference for Children’s Writers & Illustrators, and Travel, Food & Photography Conference. These conferences have gained a world-wide reputation, drawing faculty and students from as far away as Brazil, Saudi Arabia, and Brunei.

Book Passage also reaches out beyond the area, trying to give the rest of the country some idea of the vibrancy of the Bay Area literary community. The bimonthly Book Passage News & Reviews is read by more than 40,000 people worldwide. The Book Passage website,, has been an innovator among internet programs and electronic commerce for independent bookstores.

Both Book Passage owners have been highly active in the bookselling business nationally. Elaine Petrocelli was named “1997 Bookseller of the Year” by Publishers Weekly magazine, while Bill Petrocelli has served two terms on the board of directors of the American Booksellers Association.

But day-to-day bookselling is at the heart of Book Passage. The booksellers at Book Passage pride themselves on their personalized service and their knowledge of books. While they mostly talk about books with customers on a one-to-one basis at the counter or at the bookshelf, Book Passage booksellers frequently host small discussion groups and speak at community organizations about books and the book business.

Book Passage also hosts a large number of book groups in the stores and supplies books and advice to an even larger number of book clubs that meet outside the stores. Book Passage is especially pleased to act as the seller of used books on behalf of Hospice by the Bay and to help support the programs of that organization.

The owners and staff of Book Passage are grateful to the people of the Bay Area & beyond for their continued support.


Book Passage Milestones

1976: Elaine Petrocelli opens first store in Larkspur, California—900 square feet retail location.

1982: The Petrocellis start a San Francisco-based travel book & mail order business. 1986: Operations are consolidated in a single Corte Madera location—3,500 square feet.

1990: Operations are expanded taking over the entire core building, and the Book Passage Café opens—7,000 square feet.

1990: “Book Passage University,” a popular series of classes and workshops on writing, marketing, language, and the arts is launched. Numerous now-internationally acclaimed authors go on to begin their careers there.

1990: Nation’s leading author event program is developed (currently 700+ events per year).

1990: Book Passage begins exclusive relationship with KGO, Northern California’s No. 1 Radio Station.

1991: Book Passage Annual Travel Writers & Photographers Conference is launched. It immediately achieves international acclaim with authors such as: Arthur Frommer, Jan Morris, Peter Mayle, Simon Winchester & Isabel Allende.

1993: Book Passage continues its expansion, opening a second space in its current location—10,000 square feet.

1993: Book Passage opens used book section to benefit Hospice by the Bay.

1993: Book Passage launches nationally acclaimed Mystery Writers Conference. Authors include: Elmore Leonard, Carl Hiaasen, James Patterson, Sue Grafton and Michael Connelly.

1994: Book Passage launches Cooks with Books program in partnership with local restaurants.

1995: Book Passage expansion continues, increasing size in second space—12,250 square feet.

1998: Book Passage is selected American Bookseller of the Year by Publishers Weekly magazine.

1999: Book Passage launches twice-annual Children’s Writing Workshops. Authors include: Lemony Snickett, Isabel Allende, Megan McDonald and Zilpha Keatley Snyder.

2003: Book Passage opens second location in San Francisco Ferry Building.

2006: Book Passage launches a new, redesigned & fully-comprehensive Web site.

2007: Modeled after the successful four-day Mystery & Travel conferences, and expanding on the former Children's Writing Workshops, Book Passage Annual Children's Writers & Illustrators Conference is launched. Authors and illustrators include: Isabel Allende, Gennifer Choldenko, Ellen Klages, Frank Portman, and Zilpha Keatley Snyder.

2008: Due to the popularity of the Book Passage Classes & Workshops program, a second classroom is added to the Corte Madera store, almost doubling the Book Passage classes and workshops programming.

2010: The Annual Travel Writers & Photographers Conference incorporates food writing & photography to become the Book Passage Travel, Food & Photography Conference.

2010: New Book Passage 2.0 Web site is launched, with the addition of e-books, customer accounts, social networking features, and a new, dynamic search engine.