Marcus Books of San Francisco evicted

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Marcus Books owners are packing up the books today and moving them out of the store.
GUARDIAN PHOTO BY REBECCA BOWE

For months, we've been covering the story of Marcus Books, the nation’s oldest continuously operating black-owned, black-themed bookstore located in San Francisco's Fillmore District. Facing eviction from the purple Victorian where the bookstore had operated since 1981, the family that owns it had launched an ambitious fundraising campaign in an effort to remain in place.

Widespread community support for the culturally significant bookstore even led to the Board of Supervisors granting landmark status for the bookstore’s Fillmore Street address, on account of “its long-term association with Marcus Books … and for its association with Jimbo’s Bop City, one of the City’s most famous, innovative and progressive jazz clubs.”    

But as the Bay Guardian has just learned, the bookstore was evicted on May 6. Now it seems the family is in the process of packing up the books and determining what the next step is.

In the meantime, here's an open letter sent to supporters via email by bookstore co-owners Tamiko, Greg, and Karen Johnson.

Dear Supporters: 
It was difficult to know what to tell you about our struggle to stay in our building, its winding path of lawyers and judges and protests and promises, hopes and gravities made it difficult to report our status on a curved road. But the current property owner has changed the locks to the door of 1712 Fillmore Street.

Marcus Books missed a couple of rent payments (not such a rare thing considering that at the same time the largest US banks and even our government asked taxpayers to give them hundreds of billions of dollars of assistance). However, the mortgage holder, PLM Lender, foreclosed on the building that housed Marcus Books of San Francisco since 1981. It was sold to the Sweis family (realtors and owners of Royal Taxi in San Francisco). The Johnson family (co-owners of Marcus Books of San Francisco) has been trying to buy the building back for a year and half.   

The Sweis' bought this building in a bankruptcy “auction” (apparently, they were the only bidder) for $1.6 million. The Johnsons offered $1.8 million; the Sweis set their price at $3.20 million, hoping to double their purchase price after a few months ownership. After some public outrage resulting in public protests against the Sweis, a negotiation brought their asking price down to $2.6 million, adding a million dollar profit to their purchase without adding any improvements to the property and adding a stipulation that the entire $2.6 million be raised within 90 days.

Marcus Books supporters, including the local chapter of the NAACP; ACCE (Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment; Japantown activists; Westside Community Services; Julian Davis, our fearless legal council; Carlos Levexier’s “Keep It Lit” campaign committee; local literary community including writers and other bookstores; people from all over the world: friends, family, customers, churches and unions took a stand against the bulldozing of community. Individuals, unions, and churches donated $25,000. The Community Land Trust of San Francisco garnered loan pledges of $200,000 and Westside Community Services offered a loan of $1.60 million. Though by any standards that would have been more than enough for a down payment, the Sweiss' refused the $1.85 million start and filed for eviction.

Concurrently, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a resolution requiring every division of city government make it a priority that they each use their “powers” to help Marcus Books stay in its location. In addition, and after 5 years of efforts by John Templeton (the leader in Black California history), and Greg Johnson (co-owner of Marcus Books of San Francisco), London Breed and Malia Cohen, two San Francisco Supervisors, initiated the Board of Supervisors’ unanimous vote granting landmark status.

With the numerous speeches of San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee stating his commitment to righting the wrongs of the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency’s slaughter of the thriving African American Fillmore District, we at Marcus Books believed the City would take some affirmative action on our behalf, since Marcus Books is the only surviving Black business since the Redevelopment devastation. Maybe that support is around the next bend? 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.

You might ask yourself, why bother? Materialism rules the day. That is not news. More often than not, we take it for granted that the “bottom line” is the only line worth respecting, though it respects no one. This is a common conception, but not right. Right is the vertical line that runs through all levels: from its spiritual top to its earthly roots. This verticality is manifested only by integrity. Integrity defies gravity in its perpetual longing for truth. Millions of people have been put out of their homes by bottom-line-feeders. It’s common, but it’s not okay, now or at any other time. Sometimes you just have to take a stand. Integrity is a verb.

In 1970, I had a vision bout rebirth. A segment of that vision informs this struggle. In this particular scene, the spirit is climbing the Tree of Humanity, being lifted higher and higher by those entwined in The Tree. The spirit never steps on anyone’s face or heart. It just carries their dreams up with it. Because it is growing towards rebirth, it gets younger with each step up. Though there are thousands of supporters at the bottom of The Tree, there are fewer at the top and the helping hands are fewer and far between. At the top of The Tree, at the stratum of the clouds, quantity has morphed in into quality. Here a storm of wind and rain rages, lightning strikes and a mad dog spirals up The Tree, snapping at the heels of the now, infant spirit. Teetering on a limb, the spirit sees a man face down in the mud at the bottom of The Tree. Seems he got there from letting go of his faith in The Tree. The surrounding clouds urge the spirit fall.
 
“Cross Section”
The rumors, that were whispered,
            Here, the silence screams,
            And branches battle shadows
            To defend their dreams.
 
            Where Black is cut in pieces,
            Can’t hold myself together.
            Time cuts me down,
            Life me brought up,
            But lead me to this weather.
 
            The Time says, ‘Fall
            To soulless ease.
            To struggle is disgrace.
            The gravity will grant you peace,
            And hide your shameful face.’
 
            But I am born of honor:
            Descendent from above.
            My Father’s name is Wisdom
            And my Mother’s name is Love.
            And I have strength of purpose.
            That’s what my climb’s about.
            As I’m cut off,
            I will hold ON
            And trustingly Black-out.”
 
(Copyright 1997, Karen Johnson)
 
 For the hundreds of people who have lent their time, money, and prayers, we are truly grateful.
 
--Tamiko, Greg, and Karen Johnson, co-owners Marcus Books of San Francisco
 
 . . . to be continued

Comments

Wasn't the initial foreclosure the result of borrowing more money than they could pay back? Whose fault is that?

Posted by Guest on May. 08, 2014 @ 12:58 pm

Business frequently seek borrowed monies to support their operations.
So dont question them...

Posted by reader on May. 09, 2014 @ 5:52 am

of repaying it. A single race bookstore is not viable.

Posted by Guest on May. 09, 2014 @ 6:22 am

I read they borrowed close to a million dollars. How was that money spent? Was it used to open their Oakland location?

Posted by Guest on May. 09, 2014 @ 10:29 am

I guess I have to admit that the lenders and bankers here were partly at fault for lending so much to a business that was not only morally repugnant and racially divisive, but also fiscally clueless.

Perhaps they were blinded by PC dogma?

Posted by Guest on May. 09, 2014 @ 10:45 am

phew what a hateful moron you are

Posted by Guest on May. 09, 2014 @ 5:20 pm

Yes, it's hateful to not submit yourself to PC dogma. Thoughts must be trained. Racism by definition cannot be committed by the dispossessed. White collar crime by definition cannot be committed by black people. Thoughts. Thoughts. Thoughts must be trained for the greater good.

Posted by Guest on May. 09, 2014 @ 6:59 pm

Why can't people get the hang of this racecard-playing thing? It's really quite simple.

Posted by Guest on May. 09, 2014 @ 10:43 pm

As said "materialism rules the day"

Posted by Fiona on May. 10, 2014 @ 3:31 am
Posted by Guest on May. 10, 2014 @ 4:23 am

Yes ; Wasn't the initial foreclosure the result of borrowing more money than they could pay back? Whose fault is that?

Posted by Ukash Kart Al on May. 08, 2014 @ 1:10 pm

Add google page. www.seoseocu.com

Posted by Ukash Kart Al on May. 08, 2014 @ 1:11 pm

That's where it all starts, of course they should be subject to special rules and treatment because they're colored peoples of color. And because the US government bailed out the banks.

In the words of the old residents of Japantown: "Sayonara Suckers."

Posted by Guest on May. 08, 2014 @ 1:54 pm

Were the Marcus Books owners the building owners who were foreclosed? Do the missed "rent" payments actually refer to mortgage payments?

Posted by Guest on May. 08, 2014 @ 6:09 pm

No. Dude above didn't (or couldn't) read properly.

Posted by Guest on May. 08, 2014 @ 8:19 pm

White people not caring about black culture and referring to "Well ya missed some payments"??? Nooooooooo. But I thought white folk loved culture.

Posted by Guest on May. 08, 2014 @ 2:06 pm

peddling discredited back-to-Africa tomes from long-forgotten authors. That and soul food restaurants.

Posted by Guest on May. 08, 2014 @ 2:22 pm

It has never been properly explained in the media.

It does seem someone at the store sold the building trading on equity and it all fell through, and then they went begging to the "community."

An American Opinion Bookstore could have done same and got anti-support from the progressobots.

Posted by Guest on May. 08, 2014 @ 5:27 pm

Old Residents of Japan have more dignity that to use stupid phrases like "Sayanora Suckers" and only fools attempt to divine indivual
fault when it comes to the Housing Crisis and the Bank Bailout which robbed millioins while only a few of the thieves landed in Jail.
One must learn compassion, Grasshopper.

Posted by LoneRanger on May. 08, 2014 @ 2:27 pm

(Who ARE these trolls who come out of the woodwork to make racist, insulting, and ignorant comments in a progressive paper? Disgusting.) I'm very sad to hear of the troubles and defeats of Marcus Books' owners. Many upstanding citizens are being driven out of their homes and their towns (like this one, for example) by arrogant, moneyed interests these days, be they governments, banks, or individuals. San Francisco has been increasingly rapidly losing its locals, and with them, its heart and soul. Love to you, Marcus Books. Thank you for everything you've given to San Francisco over the decades.

Posted by Guest on May. 08, 2014 @ 8:12 pm
Posted by Guest on May. 08, 2014 @ 11:35 pm

It would be a lot easier to muster up some sympathy for this situation if I had read one scintilla of acknowledgement of a bad business decision having been made instead of absolute deflection and blame on others. The writing's been on the wall for years about print media, and the gentrification of the neighborhood. The Marcus' took out a mortgage on free and clear property in order to keep a failing business temporarily afloat in a climate which showed little (if any) signs of improving. If they were somehow hoodwinked into unfavorable terms or small print "gotcha!"s this would bear mentioning, but it seems not to have been the case based on all the articles I've read.

Posted by Jerusalem Pork Store franchisee was unclear on the concept on May. 08, 2014 @ 4:58 pm

The history never been properly documented, although the SFBG has repeatedly bemoaned the present situation.

Why did they trade on the building and then go begging to the saps?

Posted by Guest on May. 08, 2014 @ 5:31 pm

I'm missing something. A bunch of things, actually.

1) did they rent or own the place
2) does "a couple" payments mean 2? Or was it more?
3) after they missed the 2? Rent/mortgage payments, what did they do to try to work with the landlord/leinholder?

Posted by Guest on May. 08, 2014 @ 5:37 pm

These comments are atrocious. Many of you commenters are being hateful, mean, and downright racist. Yeah, I said it.

Yes, an historical African-American bookstore should receive special treatment, because it is special. It is an important cultural, educational, community, artistic, spiritual, and inter-generational institution. People of Color have been systematically oppressed here on this continent for centuries and it will take more than a few decades of systemic effort and change to correct that. Our history should never be forgotten and we should all be grateful to the African-American communities for their tireless work at advancing human rights and social justice.

Just because something is not important to *your* culture, doesn't mean it's not important.

You don't know the terms of the Johnson's mortgage or bankruptcy proceedings or why they missed payments, so you don't know if they, "borrowed more than they could pay back," which is a very subjective term to begin with. In the end, they raised a quarter million more than what the Sweis family paid for the property at auction. Perhaps the bookstore-owning Johnson family had limited means while in the midst of bankruptcy, foreclosure, and eviction. They certainly sound like stressful events through which it would be difficult to raise cash.

Whereas the real estate investing Sweis family sounds like they were shopping for cheap foreclosure auctions without consideration for the impact of this business on the community and San Francisco's very strong desire to preserve it.

You know who did borrow more than they could pay back?

- Fannie Mae, to the tune of $116,149,000,000.00
- Freddie Mac $71,336,000,000.00
- AIG $67,835,000,000.00

Along with General Motors, Bank of America, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Ally Financial, Chrysler, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Capital One, Regions, American Express... the list goes on and on.

We, the American taxpayers, gave them all "special treatment" for their "bad business decisions" while they, their executives and CEOs with MBAs and every advantage of wealth and privilege (and in nearly every case "whiteness"), were the very same people wielding that decision-making power. I'm almost certain the Johnson family weren't the ones funding special interest lobbyist to influence mortgage-regulating legislation and that they didn't write the terms of their own lease or mortgage. The bankers and their lawyers and lawmakers did that. Therefore, it is no more "fair" to blame the Johnsons for their plight than it is to blame the bankers and automakers. If anything, it is by far less fair, considering their extremely disproportionate lack of power and wealth.

They didn't "go begging" to the community. Their community loves them and supports them and wants them to continue. Even the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed a unanimous resolution to help them stay.

As someone who grew up in San Francisco, I am no less appalled by the hateful, hurtful ignorance of these cowardly, anonymous, hate speech comments than I am by the eviction itself. I only wish someone(s) with resources to make this situation right would step up to the plate and correct it. Provide Marcus Books with a nearby and comparable location to move to or somehow help them stay in (or return to) their historic home.

Posted by Soledad Song on May. 08, 2014 @ 6:47 pm

Soledad Song, you took the words right out of my mouth! I am ashamed to share the same air with some of these people. Disgusting individuals. Hoping and praying for the best for all involved.

Posted by Amy Mills on May. 08, 2014 @ 7:56 pm

That was my very first reaction to this, and in fact i am shocked a single race bookstore still exists in modern America.

Posted by Guest on May. 08, 2014 @ 11:36 pm

(I'm not Amy, but I'll go ahead and take a shot at this one.)

Africa is a continent, not a race.

African-American culture is a diaspora. Also not a race.

Therefore, Marcus Books is not a "single race" bookstore. Get your facts straight. Nobody there discriminated against you and told you you weren't welcome. They invited all people, regardless of their culture of origin.

An African-American bookstore is no more discriminatory against you than a Catholic bookstore, a shop full of Judaica, or market full of imported food.

Posted by Soledad Song on May. 09, 2014 @ 1:29 am

books that are not about blacks?

Or any non-black workers for that matter?

How many white-only bookstores can you name?

Posted by Guest on May. 09, 2014 @ 3:59 am

How many chapters of the KKK are there? Probably there are that many white-only bookstores.

Posted by guest on May. 09, 2014 @ 3:12 pm

And whites seem fine with that.

Posted by Guest on May. 09, 2014 @ 10:36 pm

Slow, sarcastic clap. Of the very few comments that mention race above, prejudices are equally directed at blacks and whites. You're is among the minority of racist comments.

Your faux-rage is amusing.

The new property owners sound like real a-holes, but the store owners and supporters have no one to blame but themselves.

Posted by Guest on May. 08, 2014 @ 8:38 pm

"That's where it all starts, of course they should be subject to special rules and treatment because they're colored peoples of color."

"Because black culture consists of dusty, tatty bookstores peddling discredited back-to-Africa tomes from long-forgotten authors. That and soul food restaurants."

"In the words of the old residents of Japantown: 'Sayonara Suckers.'"

Yes, these are racist statements and no, they are not equally-targeted at Europeans. At the time of my original post, there was only one comment critiquing "white" people.

Posted by Soledad Song on May. 08, 2014 @ 9:12 pm

focused on only one race.

I'm fairly sure you'd have a problem with a bookstore that is only for and about whites.

Who is the racist now?

Posted by Guest on May. 08, 2014 @ 11:34 pm

it is patently offensive for people of privilege to try and use the racist card. reverse racism is a myth. POC were brought here against their will, forced to build this country, tortured, killed, and are still to this day degraded. the ignorance in so many of these comments is appalling.

Posted by Guest on May. 09, 2014 @ 12:54 pm

A post-racial American does not need book stores where every race but one is excluded.

You can still read or buy a book about blacks from Amazon, should you be that bored.

Posted by Guest on May. 09, 2014 @ 10:37 pm

dislikes you for being black. They dislike you for hating on others because you are black. And for your misplaced anger and simmering resentment. And for seeing everything in race terms.

The first person to stereotype others if the real bigot.

And this bookstore, by stereotyping race, was part of that bigotry.

Posted by Guest on May. 08, 2014 @ 11:44 pm

How much money has he spent there?

Why didn't he launch a fundraiser?

Because he doesn't really care about the store. He is just using it as a vehicle for his race-based hatred.

Posted by Guest on May. 09, 2014 @ 1:13 am

Anonymous Coward What You Need To Understand Is That You Just...

...assumed that I'm black.

Surprise!

I'm actually predominantly Chinese, Spanish, Indigenous Abya Yalan (Native "Amerikkkan"), and Sephardic Jewish.

So... you decided to pick an ethnic background for me and label me with it based on my support of the oldest African-American themed and owned bookstore in the country. That's a pretty bold and obvious stereotyping of me, whereas I have said nothing about nor judged and attacked you. How could I? You're an anonymous coward!

Stocking a limited genre of literature is not "stereotyping race." It's promoting and celebrating a culture. In this case black culture. Claiming that African-American people should not be allowed to run their own businesses promoting their history is bigoted.

Should Jewish people not have Judaica stores? Japanese people not have Japanese bookstores (like Kinokuniya and others in adjacent Japantown)? Are the Chinese book shops in Chinatown and the Sunset District also infringing on your civil rights?

Black people are not the only people who benefit from black culture. We all benefit from diversity and celebrating and appreciating each other.

Anyway, I've written more than enough on this topic. I'm done feeding the trolls here.

Thanks for proving just how ignorant and wrong you really are. :)

Posted by Soledad Song on May. 09, 2014 @ 1:41 am

lili, you rascal!

Posted by Guest on May. 09, 2014 @ 2:41 am

Yet he wants to claim the higher moral ground

Posted by Guest on May. 09, 2014 @ 4:01 am

I never said that there should not be books about blacks, by blacks or for blacks.

I said that a post-racial America does not need separate but equal bookstors

Posted by Guest on May. 09, 2014 @ 4:01 am

Post racial? OMG, who are you, John Roberts?

Posted by guest on May. 09, 2014 @ 3:14 pm

book stores that excludes certain races.

In fact, a post-racial society is one in which people do not feel much need to talk about race at all.

Posted by Guest on May. 09, 2014 @ 10:39 pm
Posted by Guest on May. 08, 2014 @ 11:37 pm

"You don't know the terms of the Johnson's mortgage or bankruptcy proceedings or why they missed payments, so you don't know if they, "borrowed more than they could pay back," which is a very subjective term to begin with. In the end, they raised a quarter million more than what the Sweis family paid for the property at auction. Perhaps the bookstore-owning Johnson family had limited means while in the midst of bankruptcy, foreclosure, and eviction. They certainly sound like stressful events through which it would be difficult to raise cash."

It seems you are in on this secret knowledge that the authors at the Bay Guardian don't bother to report on.

So explain step by step how a business goes from owning a building to be a renter in the building to being evicted. Please leave out the race and conspiracy theory. It's intellectually lazy too fall back on all the same saws and cannards of blaming "the man" and the conspiracy here, when it seems this is just terrible management.

So I await you time line of salt to eviction and justification for all steps. Or just blame the conspiracy and natter about race.

Posted by Guest on May. 09, 2014 @ 6:48 am

the bills. It's a binary thing - either they can or they cannot. And in this case, they cannot.

Posted by Guest on May. 09, 2014 @ 7:01 am

It seems the conspiracy and some sort of race theory issue previous to that is at fault.

It's easy to blame "the man" in all of this, but it seems that our author has a more deep understanding of the issues here, so I await the time line and how the Marcus people are not at fault for making bad choices down the line.

Sure urban renewal was bad, that was the 60's. Making bad business decisions 40 years later is an interesting connection.

Posted by Guest on May. 09, 2014 @ 7:20 am

Bad business idea - race-based book store

Bad financials - they didn't do proper due diligence and financial planning

Bad management - they didn't change tack when the shit started to hit the fan

Bad ethics - they demanded that they be "entitled" to endure based on the promotion of racial purity

Toast.

Posted by Guest on May. 09, 2014 @ 7:58 am

Yeah, terrible business model, it only lasted 54 years.

Posted by marcos on May. 09, 2014 @ 8:34 am

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