Bookstore beats odds, stays open 

New College enters into partnership to help save Mission’s Modern Times

Modern Times Bookstore on Valencia Street needed a boost of morale in January when owners of the cooperative were mulling the possibility of closing its doors.

Two staples in the Bay Area independent bookstore community — Cody’s Books in Berkeley and The City’s Clean Well Lighted Place for Books — had already closed earlier this year. Now, with sales declining due to more shoppers turning to the Internet and mega-bookstores, Modern Times needed to find a new business model, according to co-owner Brenda O’Sullivan.

"We were just as surprised when we saw Cody’s on Telegraph and A Clean Well Lighted Place for Books close down, and we knew it wasn’t just us," O’Sullivan said. "One of the things we realized was that we needed help."

After having discussions about possibly closing the bookstore down, the owners decided to branch out for support. They held fundraisers, received an interest-free loan from Rainbow Grocery and formed a new partnership with New College of

California, just down the street. Under the agreement, the school would pay rent to have classes in a meeting room in the back of the store and both parties would cross-promote the other.

Specific financial terms of the arrangement were not released, but therent is the same that New College was paying for its previous location before moving some classes to the bookstore. Modern Times will also continue to carry textbooks for the school, which it has done for 15 years.

New College has a history of supporting institutions on Valencia Street. Last year, the school saved Roxie Cinema from closing and made it part of the school.

"We want to support them for a bunch of reasons," said Martin Hamilton, president of New College. "Just like the Roxie, we can’t have the bookstore close down."

Annie Danger, another member of the Modern Times cooperative, said New College agreed to help the struggling store as a sign of solidarity for the two politically left-leaning institutions.

"We recognize the importance that New College plays in San Francisco and on Valencia Street … [and] once these things close it’s hard to open them up because next thing you know it’s a mall with a Borders," Hamilton said.

As part of the arrangement, New College will pay to have the meeting room refurbished and start holding weekend classes there as early as next month. The school is also providing technical support to the bookstore, which O’Sullivan said is invaluable to a small business on a limited budget.

sfarooq@examiner.com

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