Marcus Books Closes Its San Francisco Chapter

By Frederick H. Lowe

Marcus Book Stores, the nation’s oldest African-American-owned bookstore, has closed its San Francisco location after the landlord wrote the final chapter by evicting the bookseller for not paying rent.

Marcus Books, the nation's oldest African-American owned bookstore has closes its San Francisco location.

Marcus Book Stores, the nation’s oldest African-American owned bookstore, has closes its San Francisco location.

Marcus Books, named in honor of Marcus Garvey who often was referred to as Black Moses, was founded in 1960 in San Francisco by Ray and Julian Richardson. In 1981, the store moved to purple a Victorian in the city’s Fillmore District, which at one time was a thriving African-American neighborhood, but it is now rapidly disappearing because of gentrification.

The bookstore is co-owned by Tamiko, Greg Johnson and Karen Johnson. In a statement, the three wrote: “It is 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 on the door of 1712 Fillmore Street.”

The landlords, Nishan and Suhailia Sweis, had attempted without success to evict the bookstore earlier.

The bookstore, which hosted readings by Malcolm X, Rosa Parks and Oprah, closed in May, but its shutdown was not widely reported. John Coltrane also performed there.

ColorOfChange.org and Change.org launched online petition drives designed to persuade the Sweises to sell the building to West Side Community Services, but the couple rejected an offer of $1.64 million, which was higher than the $1.59 million purchase price.

Marcus Books’ troubles began in 2006 when the Johnsons took out a $950,000 loan to pay operating expenses. The fixed monthly payments of $10,000 were more than the couple

could afford. Marcus Books, however, operates a store in Oakland, Calif.

The closing of Marcus Books reflects the continuing decline of black-owned and operated bookstores.

In the 1970s and 1980s, there were more than 1,000 black-owned bookstores. Several years ago, there are slightly more than 100, possibly 116 to 117, according to Troy Johnson, founder of the African American Literature Book Club (AALBC.com), which is based in New York.

Bookstores have disappeared because the Internet, illiteracy and poor management.

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