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Step Back in Time at Schein & Schein's Magical Map Emporium

Schein &amp; Schein is located in a circa-1907 building in North Beach. Photos by P<a href="">atricia Chang</a>
Schein & Schein is located in a circa-1907 building in North Beach. Photos by Patricia Chang

Maybe the first thing you notice when you walk into Schein & Schein's North Beach store is the aroma. It smells like cigars, chocolate, and vanilla—and the source is the old paper that makes up the antique maps, prints, and books sold by proprietors Jimmie and Marti Schein. If that weren't transporting enough, there's the look of the store. "It has a 19th-century aesthetic for sure," says Jimmie. "I prefer to store everything in wooden flat files or crates, no metal here." The books are shelved in floor-to-ceiling bookshelves along the back of the shop. In the digital age, this is the stuff of memory, history, and a bygone world. But, according the the Scheins, it's a world that an increasingly younger audience is seeking out.

You might assume that a map expert and dealer is a stuffy octogenarian with an advanced degree and a highfaluting demeanor. Jimmie Schein doesn't fit that mold. He says he was born into a map family (his parents were academics, one brother is the chairman of geography department at University of Kentucky, another brother is a landscape architect). Jimmie is not sure if he has a high school degree ("I can't remember if I do, so I likely don't," he says). Instead, you could say he attended the School of Rock. "For 20 years, I was a logistics and production technician for musicians and bands. I worked for Miles Davis, Metallica, The Rolling Stones, and many others. My job involved moving truckloads of equipment around the world," he says. While he was on the road, he spent his free time searching out maps and building a collection.

That personal collection became the seed of his inventory when he retired from the music business and opened Schein & Schein with Marti. Today, in their store at 1435 Grant Ave., they keep anywhere from 15,000 to 18,000 maps on hand at any given time ranging from a 1541 map drawn by Michael Servetus (a Spanish cartographer who was burned at the stake as a heretic and his atlases were allegedly used to stoke the flames) to a reprint of the 1939 "Merry-Makers Map of San Francisco: A Pilot for Pixilated Philanderers with a Penchant for Getting Pickled," (a map showing where to dine, drink, and dance in SF). The latter is an example of a modern, animated map—a category that is hot in the map world. This particular one is a guide to nightlife illustrated with nude women leading top-hatted gents from one party locale to another. "We are a Mom and Pop shop," says Jimmie. "I can't think of another store where you can buy something for $5 or $15,000—except maybe Costco."

The boundaries of the planet—of this city, for that matter—shift and change with rapidity that paper and ink can't possibly hope to capture. But Jimmie says business has never been better. "I think that a lot of kids are raised in this kind of sterile, homogenous environment filled with vapid, trite bullshit, " he says. "I like reading maps because they are rich and real. They tell us where we are and where we are going. The animated maps talk about ideas and concepts. Maps fill in the holes in life. I responded to those things, and I think young people today do too."

Jimmie Schein displays a San Francisco map. Although their offerings cover the world, he says there are a lot of SF maps because, "People like to have maps of their own backyard."

Details of "Merry-Makers Map of San Francisco: A Pilot for Pixilated Philanderers with a Penchant for Getting Pickled." Jimmie says the nude women were drawn without nipples to avoid the ire of censors.

Influenced by old-school record stores, Jimmie and Marti set up the maps in "flippable" racks wherever possible.

· Schein & Schein [Official Site]