Karen Johnson, co-owner of Marcus Books in San Francisco, the oldest independent Black-owned bookstore in America, had some sobering news for the store’s supporters: They’re shutting their doors.
“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,” Karen Johnson in an open letter.
The closure is yet another colossal blow to the city’s once vibrant Black community that has found itself priced out of San Francisco amid the tech boom and skyrocketing housing prices.
Named for activist Marcus Garvey, Julian and Raye Richardson opened Marcus Books in 1960 on Fillmore Street, once known as the “Harlem of the West.” Since then, Black writers and icons like Malcolm X, Toni Morrison, Rosa Parks, Muhammad Ali, Walter Mosely, Alice Walker, and Oprah Winfrey have all walked through its doors.
For the past year Marcus Books struggled to survive. Despite the work of community activists, fundraising efforts, and the push to attain landmark status, the building was sold at auction for $1.6 million in December. Marcus Books’ owners were told they could buy back the property for $2.6 million, unfortunately, they weren’t able to raise the money and the store was padlocked on Tuesdays.
“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,” Johnson wrote, “since Marcus Books is the only surviving Black business since the Redevelopment devastation.”
Back in March, AALBC—African American Literature Book Club—reported there are only 54 Black-owned bookstores left in the nation. As startling as it may be, with the loss of Marcus Books, that number has dropped even lower.