The oldest African American-owned bookstore in the country is on the brink of closing its doors.
Founded in San Francisco's Fillmore District in 1960 by Raye and Julian Richardson, Marcus Books has been a hub of the city's black culture for over half a century. The store has hosted readings by luminaries like Toni Morrison, Rosa Parks, Malcolm X and Oprah Winfrey.
But now, after falling victim to a predatory loan at the height of the housing bubble and losing ownership of the property in a bankruptcy, the family that has operated the bookstore for generations has been ordered to vacate the premises by Tuesday.
Marcus Books has teamed up with local nonprofit Westside Community Services in an effort to save the business. Together, they've offered the new landlords a deal to repurchase the property that would leave the landlords with a small profit and allow the store to continue operation.
"We’ve made a very good offer, in excess of the purchase price," Westside CEO Dr. Mary Ann Jones, said in a statement. "We hope that the...[new landlords] will accept it and that they understand what an incommensurable loss it would be if Marcus Books was forced out."
However, the price the new owners are willing to sell the building for is approximately double what Westside is offering. An eviction order was issued in April.
"I wish I could come up with the money to buy it myself," said San Francisco Supervisor London Breed, who grew up in the neighborhood and told the San Francisco Examiner about about all the time she spent in Marcus Book when she was younger. "But unfortunately, it's a capitalist society, and it doesn't work like that."
The family has posted a Change.org petition online, which has generated thousands of signatures, hoping to get the landlords to change their minds.
Over the weekend, a group of about 40 supporters of the bookstore went to San Francisco's St. Nicholas Church, where one of the property's new owners is a deacon, and held a silent prayer protest against the eviction.
The history of Marcus Books even extends into the building itself. The three-story Fillmore Street Victorian that's housed the store since 1981 was uprooted and moved from nearby Laguna Street to prevent it from falling victim to the redevelopment project that decimated much of San Francisco's core African American neighborhood in the 1950s. The building then served as an after-hours jazz club where musicians like John Coltrane and Billie Holiday performed. It hosted Black Panthers meetings and the Bay Area's first Kwanzaa celebration.
However, in recent years, Marcus has been faced with two separate forces--Amazon.com's price war on brick-and-mortar bookshops and the gradual exodus of the city's black population--that have negatively affected its bottom line.
"The kind of work I'm writing has a small audience, and a lot of African American writers are in the same position," legendary African American author Ishmael Reed explained to the Wall Street Journal last year. "If Marcus Books were to disappear, it would be a great loss to many of us."
The family is currently working with the city in efforts to find a new location for Marcus Books in the event that the store is forced to close.
"We'll have to take a look at all the options available," San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee told ABC San Francisco. "I think they've been a good business and we will make every effort to do so."
"The challenges black bookstores face are no romance," wrote Jasmine Johnson, the founders' granddaughter, in a piece for Colorlines last year.
"Advancing technology and digitization are increasingly central to the book-buying market; a desire for immediate ownership (even though it is technically only licensing) and quick-click purchasing has made brick-and-mortar stores synonymous with the slow, aging, and nostalgic."
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