Jessica Kwong/The S.F. examinerTracy Parent

Marcus Books reading kickstarts $1M campaign to avoid closure

Marcus Bookstore in the Fillmore district opened its doors on its usual day of closure Sunday for a book reading that is part of a $1 million cause.

Unlike other literary and cultural events at the country's oldest black bookstore, this began with a pitch to community members to help come up with that amount of money by Feb. 28, or the business would be evicted from its Victorian home.

“Normally it would take a year to raise that amount of capital funds and we only have two months,” said Tracy Parent, organizational director of the San Francisco Community Land Trust, which seeks to purchase the three-story building. “We have a campaign kicking off [Sunday]. Please take these postcards to share with your friends.”

The postcards reading, “Help the community buy back Marcus Book Store” also urge community members to visit www.supportmarcusbooks.com, where they can donate or contribute a loan.

Westside Community Services, a Fillmore-based nonprofit, offered a loan covering about two-thirds of the $2.6 million acquisition, leaving the $1 million gap to close through the real estate crowd-investment platform Fundrise.com.

“This will be the hardest part, but we feel that by using social networking and Fundrise.com, we can achieve it,” said Parent, adding that the fundraiser is a new concept in The City. “The land trust has been around for 10 years, but buying buildings off the private market is very difficult, so we have to be creative with the financing.”

The hope is to receive more donations than loans, said Grace Martinez, a community organizer for the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, a partner with the land trust.

Marcus Books — designated as a San Francisco landmark in July, nearly two months after the bookstore and tenants in the two residential units above it were initially scheduled to vacate — has been a family-owned business since 1960.

At the first of various book readings, concerts and house parties scheduled for the Support Marcus Books Campaign, store operators and attendees remained cheerful despite the lofty goal.

Co-owner Karen Johnson, 65, said the crowd of about 50 attendees at the fundraiser was “a beautiful place to start.”

During a book auction portion, her daughter Jasmine Johnson, 29, laughed as she won a coffee table book with a $65 bid.

“We're pretty hopeful,” Jasmine Johnson said. “I think the community understands how important it is and I think people will show up.”

For many, saving the bookstore is about preserving the historic flavor of the Fillmore, Martinez said.

“A fight like this is not just to keep the legacy alive, but a beacon for a lot of people who are fighting to stay here in San Francisco,” she said. “This is a part of what San Francisco used to be.”

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