Efforts to Save Oldest Black-owned Marcus Books Store in San Francisco

Marcus Books Store at 1712 Fillmore St. in San Francisco.

Ed Donaldson

Karen Johnson

By Tasion Kwamilele and Lee Hubbard Marcus Books, the oldest Black-owned bookstore in the country and housed in the same San Francisco location for the past 43 years, may be forced to shut down as early as next week if an agreement to rebuy the property cannot be reached with the new owners.Marcus Books is scheduled to close next week unless property investors agree to sell the building back to the bookstore owners, who lost the property in a bankruptcy proceeding in 2009.Julian Davis, attorney for the Greg and Karen Johnson, who operate Marcus Books, says the bookstore owners fell victim to a predatory loan, and when monthly payments grew to nearly $10,000 a month, they were unable to pay. At a press conference last Monday, members of San Francisco’s Black community backed the Johnson family’s fight to keep the store at its Fillmore Street location and head off the June 18 eviction. “There have been 4,000 foreclosures in San Francisco in the last five years, which have deeply impacted the Black community,” according to Ed Donaldson, chairman of the San Francisco Home Defenders League, which fights to keep people from losing their homes. “We need to keep Marcus Books open and fight this eviction, because it is a historical and cultural institution that speaks to our existence in San Francisco,” he said. West Side Community Services, which has partnered with Marcus Bookstores for years, has offered to purchase the property back from the investors for $1.64 million – more than what the Sweis family paid. But Davis, Marcus Books attorney, says the investors have rejected the offer. “We’ve made a very good offer, in excess of the purchase price,” said Dr. Mary Ann Jones, Chief Executive Officer of Westside. “We hope that (they) will accept it and that they understand what an immeasurable loss it would be if Marcus Books is forced out.” “People came out to support us because everyone is tired of being pushed around in the Black community,” said Karen Johnson, Marcus Books owner. “I want the new owners to get their money back and get paid beyond what they paid for and invest in something else. I want our business to continue at the same location.” The Johnson family remains committed to keeping the bookstore open. “The worse case scenario is that they are going to be displaced, … but they want people to know they will find a way to continue,” Davis said. S. Seth Karshaw of Last & Faoro, which represents the new owners, was contacted by the Post but refused to comment. The Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE) is encouraging people to call (415) 335-7033 or email SanFrancisco@calorganize.org to support Marcus Books. An online petition has also been started at www.change.org

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