Marcus Books, known as the oldest independent black bookstore in the country, was evicted from its location in San Francisco’s Fillmore District this week, the storeowners announced.
In a letter posted Wednesday on the store’s blog and other social media pages by Marcus Books co-owners Tamiko, Greg, and Karen Johnson, it was announced that the “property owner has changed the locks to the door of 1712 Fillmore Street,” where Marcus Books has resided for decades.
The store was an iteration of the original bookstore that opened in 1960 and was a mainstay in the area known for hosting numerous writers and speakers’ events, such as appearances over the years by James Baldwin, Dave Chappelle, Malcolm X, Alice Walker, Willie Brown, Jackie Robinson, Angela Davis, Barry White, Wesley Snipes and dozens of others.
The location had been fighting off eviction in recent months. The notice came Tuesday.
In the letter, the owners said the store missed the last few rent payments on the building, which had been foreclosed on before it was sold at auction to new owners.
The Johnsons have been trying to buy the building back for the past year and a half. Marcus Books has been there since 1981, according to the owners.
The new property owners purchased the building through a bankruptcy auction for a reported $2.6 million, beating out the $1.8 million the Johnsons offered, as detailed in the letter.
The Johnsons were then given a 90-day grace period to raise $2.6 million.
According to the Johnsons, despite massive fundraising efforts through the NAACP, Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment and other supporters and businesses, the building owners refused the $1.85 million down payment that Marcus Books offered.
“Well the locks have been changed, the cavalry is not in sight, and it’s time to pack up the books and store them till we find another space,” the letter stated.
On an online fundraising page for the store created in January with a $1 million goal, the store received nearly $19,300 in donations to help pay for the business’ survival.
The owners’ letter ended, “We will rise again in San Francisco.”
Vallie Brown, an aide for San Francisco Supervisor London Breed, said the supervisor, whose district includes the Fillmore District, is “very saddened” by the closure. She said she is working to find a new location for the neighborhood business.
“If we could landmark a business we would,” she said. “But you can only landmark a building.”
She said Breed is committed to finding another space for the shop in the Fillmore.
“That is their home. It is vital to keep them in the Fillmore,” Brown said.
She said Breed has a personal connection to Marcus Books—it was the store where she bought her first book while growing up in the nearby Western Addition.
According to Brown, Breed has been meeting with the owners regularly and hopes to connect them with small business programs offered through the mayor’s office.
The Oakland location of Marcus Books remains open at 3900 Martin Luther King Jr. Way as the owners handle the eviction at the San Francisco location, according to an employee there this afternoon.
Sasha Lekach, Bay City News