SAN FRANCISCO — One of the oldest black-owned bookstores in the nation has been evicted from its longtime home in a historic San Francisco neighborhood. The co-owners of Marcus Book Stores in the Fillmore District said in an open letter this week that the property owner changed the locks after they fell behind on rent payments. The store has been shuttered since Tuesday. The bookstore, which emerged as a pillar in the black community since its opening in the area once nicknamed “The Harlem of the West,” celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2010. It was named after early 20th century black nationalist Marcus Garvey and has been at its current location since the early 1980s. The bookstore outlasted the uprooting of numerous black owned businesses in the area in the 1970s because of eminent domain, and it hosted celebrity authors, including Oprah Winfrey and Maya Angelou. Co-owners Tamiko, Greg and Karen Johnson have spent a year and half fundraising to buy the Victorian building where the store is located. Last year, they reached an agreement with the building’s owners to raise $2.6 million to buy the property.
The family fell about $750,000 short at a February deadline. “Though by any standards that would have been more than enough for a down payment, the (owners) refused the $1.85 million start and filed for eviction,” the family wrote. They also thought they would get a reprieve after city leaders designated the bookstore’s location a historic landmark earlier this year. Black community leaders say the city, which has seen nearly a 40 percent decrease in its African-American population between 1990 and 2010, should help. The Rev. Amos Brown, president of the San Francisco NAACP, told the San Francisco Examiner on Friday that it’s another example of how blacks are treated in the city. “You can’t deal with this bookstore without dealing with the bigger sickness,” Brown said. “So, you can’t deal with Marcus alone without looking at the conditions, the public policy that created the conditions for the black community to be torn asunder.” City Supervisor London Breed, who represents the district, said she is optimistic that the building’s owners will have a change of heart.
“We’ve been trying to find ways to save the bookstore because this is about so much more than just money,” Breed said. “This is a real devastating blow, not only for the San Francisco community, but the entire Bay Area.”
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