$1 million by Feb. 28 needed to keep Marcus Books in Fillmore

mike koozmin/2013 S.f. Examiner file photoDue to a bankruptcy

Marcus Books can remain in the Fillmore district.

All that’s needed to keep a staple of San Francisco black history and culture in the historically African-American neighborhood is $1 million — and quick.

At risk of eviction for most of the year thanks to a bank loan gone wrong, the country’s oldest black bookstore now has an opportunity to stay thanks to a deal between its new owners and a pair of San Francisco nonprofits.

For $2.6 million, Nishan and Suhaila Sweis of South San Francisco will sell the three-story Victorian that housed the store and the family who operates it since 1960 to the San Francisco Community Land Trust, according to Julian Davis, the bookstore’s general counsel. The Sweises bought the building for $1.59 million in a bankruptcy sale last year.

The land trust will then allow the bookstore — which currently has a lease “in perpetuity” on the ground-floor commercial space — to remain and welcome back the operators, Karen and Gregory Johnson, who used to live in one of the two units upstairs.

Westside Community Services, a Fillmore-based nonprofit that offered the Sweis family $1.64 million in the spring but was rebuffed, has offered to put up the initial $1.6 million.

That leaves $1 million needed before a Feb. 28 deadline. And if the effort falls short, the bookstore — as well as the last remaining tenant — will have to go.

“There’s a sense of urgency to make this a true victory,” Davis said. “It’s an uphill climb, but it’s totally doable.”

The bookstore was designated a San Francisco landmark in July, almost two months after a deadline to vacate expired. The Sweises — who claimed that market rent for the store’s space is $7,700 a month, according to court records — moved to evict the store soon after.

The Sweis family did feel pressure: protesters demanding Marcus Books be allowed to stay picketed their home in South San Francisco and their church.

But they’ll be “silent cheerleaders” during the fundraising drive, according to attorney Bill Weisberg.

“My clients always wanted to do what was best,” he said. “We wish them nothing but support.”

The Feb. 28 deadline means there may not be enough time for The City to help. To raise the $1 million, bookstore backers plan to use Fundrise.com and offer investors a 4 percent return — “better than a government bond,” Davis said.

“This is the time for those people who expressed concerns about saving Marcus Books to put money where their mouth is,” said Supervisor London Breed, who represents the Fillmore.

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