Marcus Books of San Francisco evicted

Marcus Books owners are packing up the books today and moving them out of the store.

For months, we've been covering the story of Marcus Books, the nation’s oldest continuously operating black-owned, black-themed bookstore located in San Francisco's Fillmore District. Facing eviction from the purple Victorian where the bookstore had operated since 1981, the family that owns it had launched an ambitious fundraising campaign in an effort to remain in place.

Widespread community support for the culturally significant bookstore even led to the Board of Supervisors granting landmark status for the bookstore’s Fillmore Street address, on account of “its long-term association with Marcus Books … and for its association with Jimbo’s Bop City, one of the City’s most famous, innovative and progressive jazz clubs.”    

But as the Bay Guardian has just learned, the bookstore was evicted on May 6. Now it seems the family is in the process of packing up the books and determining what the next step is.

In the meantime, here's an open letter sent to supporters via email by bookstore co-owners Tamiko, Greg, and Karen Johnson.

Dear Supporters: 
It was 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 to the door of 1712 Fillmore Street.

Marcus Books missed a couple of rent payments (not such a rare thing considering that at the same time the largest US banks and even our government asked taxpayers to give them hundreds of billions of dollars of assistance). However, the mortgage holder, PLM Lender, foreclosed on the building that housed Marcus Books of San Francisco since 1981. It was sold to the Sweis family (realtors and owners of Royal Taxi in San Francisco). The Johnson family (co-owners of Marcus Books of San Francisco) has been trying to buy the building back for a year and half.   

The Sweis' bought this building in a bankruptcy “auction” (apparently, they were the only bidder) for $1.6 million. The Johnsons offered $1.8 million; the Sweis set their price at $3.20 million, hoping to double their purchase price after a few months ownership. After some public outrage resulting in public protests against the Sweis, a negotiation brought their asking price down to $2.6 million, adding a million dollar profit to their purchase without adding any improvements to the property and adding a stipulation that the entire $2.6 million be raised within 90 days.

Marcus Books supporters, including the local chapter of the NAACP; ACCE (Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment; Japantown activists; Westside Community Services; Julian Davis, our fearless legal council; Carlos Levexier’s “Keep It Lit” campaign committee; local literary community including writers and other bookstores; people from all over the world: friends, family, customers, churches and unions took a stand against the bulldozing of community. Individuals, unions, and churches donated $25,000. The Community Land Trust of San Francisco garnered loan pledges of $200,000 and Westside Community Services offered a loan of $1.60 million. Though by any standards that would have been more than enough for a down payment, the Sweiss' refused the $1.85 million start and filed for eviction.

Concurrently, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a resolution requiring every division of city government make it a priority that they each use their “powers” to help Marcus Books stay in its location. In addition, and after 5 years of efforts by John Templeton (the leader in Black California history), and Greg Johnson (co-owner of Marcus Books of San Francisco), London Breed and Malia Cohen, two San Francisco Supervisors, initiated the Board of Supervisors’ unanimous vote granting landmark status.

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, since Marcus Books is the only surviving Black business since the Redevelopment devastation. Maybe that support is around the next bend? Well 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.

You might ask yourself, why bother? Materialism rules the day. That is not news. More often than not, we take it for granted that the “bottom line” is the only line worth respecting, though it respects no one. This is a common conception, but not right. Right is the vertical line that runs through all levels: from its spiritual top to its earthly roots. This verticality is manifested only by integrity. Integrity defies gravity in its perpetual longing for truth. Millions of people have been put out of their homes by bottom-line-feeders. It’s common, but it’s not okay, now or at any other time. Sometimes you just have to take a stand. Integrity is a verb.

In 1970, I had a vision bout rebirth. A segment of that vision informs this struggle. In this particular scene, the spirit is climbing the Tree of Humanity, being lifted higher and higher by those entwined in The Tree. The spirit never steps on anyone’s face or heart. It just carries their dreams up with it. Because it is growing towards rebirth, it gets younger with each step up. Though there are thousands of supporters at the bottom of The Tree, there are fewer at the top and the helping hands are fewer and far between. At the top of The Tree, at the stratum of the clouds, quantity has morphed in into quality. Here a storm of wind and rain rages, lightning strikes and a mad dog spirals up The Tree, snapping at the heels of the now, infant spirit. Teetering on a limb, the spirit sees a man face down in the mud at the bottom of The Tree. Seems he got there from letting go of his faith in The Tree. The surrounding clouds urge the spirit fall.
“Cross Section”
The rumors, that were whispered,
            Here, the silence screams,
            And branches battle shadows
            To defend their dreams.
            Where Black is cut in pieces,
            Can’t hold myself together.
            Time cuts me down,
            Life me brought up,
            But lead me to this weather.
            The Time says, ‘Fall
            To soulless ease.
            To struggle is disgrace.
            The gravity will grant you peace,
            And hide your shameful face.’
            But I am born of honor:
            Descendent from above.
            My Father’s name is Wisdom
            And my Mother’s name is Love.
            And I have strength of purpose.
            That’s what my climb’s about.
            As I’m cut off,
            I will hold ON
            And trustingly Black-out.”
(Copyright 1997, Karen Johnson)
 For the hundreds of people who have lent their time, money, and prayers, we are truly grateful.
--Tamiko, Greg, and Karen Johnson, co-owners Marcus Books of San Francisco
 . . . to be continued


No matter, the nation has become post-racial and there is no room for an anachronism like Marcus. Good riddance to racism and racialism.

Posted by Guest on May. 09, 2014 @ 8:47 am

Though that is possible, I never claimed it.

I wrote that many of the comments on this article were racist hate speech...

...and they are.

If you could read contemporary American English for comprehension, you would "learn and understand" that instead of putting words into my keyboard in order to give yourself a straw man argument to butt your ignorant and assumptive little blockhead against.

Being mistaken for and labeled as an "Angry Bigoted Black Man" was fun. It gave me a good chuckle. It's the kind of amusement that would only happen on the internet. I hope you can see how wrong you are, but of course, you can't. You're too myopic and busy hating people for what you assume about them to see the world as it really is.

Pretending that I wrote, thought, or am something doesn't make it true, but your minds are too feeble to entertain me any further.

Posted by Soledad Song on May. 09, 2014 @ 9:35 am

a single race bookstore rather than a general bookstore.

Anyone reading that will see your agenda very clearly. You are a racist and that does not require you to be or not be any particular race. It just requires you to see everything thru a race-based prism, as you evidently do.

Posted by Guest on May. 09, 2014 @ 9:57 am

your posts, people may assume that you intended to string it all together when trying to make sense of it.

Posted by Guest on May. 09, 2014 @ 11:38 am
Posted by Guest on May. 09, 2014 @ 11:50 am

When I said Marcus Books failed because of "racial issues", I did not mean that it was targeted by the KKK, nor that it was boycotted by Asians who Hispanics because they don't have their own bookstore.

I said it failed because the very idea of a race-based bookstore is as unattractive to people as race-based drinking fountains.

Posted by Guest on May. 10, 2014 @ 1:06 am

type writer factory? With maybe a subdivision for abacuses.

Posted by Guest on May. 09, 2014 @ 12:05 pm

Mervyn's was in business for longer and yet what happened to them?

Marcus Books might have been able to be workable before, but it's not now.

Posted by Guest on May. 11, 2014 @ 12:55 am

These comments are atrocious. Many of you commenters are being hateful, mean, and downright racist. Yeah, I said it.

Yes, an historical African-American bookstore should receive special treatment, because it is special. It is an important cultural, educational, community, artistic, spiritual, and inter-generational institution. People of Color have been systematically oppressed here on this continent for centuries and it will take more than a few decades of systemic effort and change to correct that. Our history should never be forgotten and we should all be grateful to the African-American communities for their tireless work at advancing human rights and social justice.

Just because something is not important to *your* culture, doesn't mean it's not important.

You don't know the terms of the Johnson's mortgage or bankruptcy proceedings or why they missed payments, so you don't know if they, "borrowed more than they could pay back," which is a very subjective term to begin with. In the end, they raised a quarter million more than what the Sweis family paid for the property at auction. Perhaps the bookstore-owning Johnson family had limited means while in the midst of bankruptcy, foreclosure, and eviction. They certainly sound like stressful events through which it would be difficult to raise cash.

Whereas the real estate investing Sweis family sounds like they were shopping for cheap foreclosure auctions without consideration for the impact of this business on the community and San Francisco's very strong desire to preserve it.

You know who *did* borrow more than they could pay back?

- Fannie Mae, to the tune of $116,149,000,000.00
- Freddie Mac $71,336,000,000.00
- AIG $67,835,000,000.00

Along with General Motors, Bank of America, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Ally Financial, Chrysler, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Capital One, Regions, American Express... the list goes on and on.

We, the American taxpayers, gave them all "special treatment" for their "bad business decisions" while they, their executives and CEOs with MBAs and every advantage of wealth and privilege (and in nearly every case "whiteness"), were the very same people wielding that decision-making power. I'm almost certain the Johnson family weren't the ones funding special interest lobbyists to influence mortgage-regulating legislation and that they didn't write the terms of their own lease or mortgage. The bankers and their lawyers and lawmakers did that. Therefore, it is no more "fair" to blame the Johnsons for their plight than it is to blame the bankers and automakers. If anything, it is by far less fair, considering their extremely disproportionate lack of power and wealth.

They didn't "go begging" to the community. Their community loves them and supports them and wants them to continue. Even the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed a unanimous resolution to help them stay.

As someone who grew up in San Francisco, I am no less appalled by the hateful, hurtful ignorance of these cowardly, anonymous, hate speech comments than I am by the eviction itself. I only wish someone(s) with resources to make this situation right would step up to the plate and correct it. Provide Marcus Books with a nearby and comparable location to move to or somehow help them stay in (or return to) their historic home.

Posted by Soledad Song on May. 08, 2014 @ 6:54 pm

Slow clap.

Posted by Ambrose Bierce on May. 08, 2014 @ 7:13 pm

Soledad Song, you took the words right out of my mouth! I am ashamed to share the same air with some of these people. Disgusting individuals. Hoping and praying for the best for all involved.

Posted by Amy Mills on May. 08, 2014 @ 7:54 pm

Soledad Song, you took the words right out of my mouth! I am ashamed to share the same air with some of these people. Disgusting individuals. Hoping and praying for the best for all involved.

Posted by Amy Mills on May. 08, 2014 @ 7:56 pm


That's weird because when I went there, there were books about all races and cultures, and people from all races and cultures were there.

Posted by Guest on May. 09, 2014 @ 10:42 pm
Posted by Guest on May. 11, 2014 @ 9:29 am

Soul food is absolutely delicious. It will stick to your ribs and nourish you; mind, body, and oh yeah, soul. If you don't like soul food, why are you in the Fillmore Jazz District? It's the "Harlem of the West."

The Japanese of Nihonmachi were not kicked out by black people. They were rounded up and shipped off as a result of an Executive Order signed by FDR, who, by the way, was not black (he was English, Dutch, and French).

The African-Americans of the Fillmore came as part of the Great Migration, having been recruited by wartime efforts to increase low-wage labor stocks in railroads and shipyards, while escaping segregation and discrimination in The South. They certainly didn't have the agency in the 1940's to redevelop a neighborhood on their own. They went where the rental vacancies were high: where the Japanese had been kidnapped from (by a European-descended government and military).

So, who is deflecting blame and refusing to take responsibility here?

The African-Americans for adapting and struggling to survive in a Caucasian-Dominated society? or the self-identified "white" people with all the power and money?

Throw some collards and cornbread on my hog maw, 'cause all this talk of scrumptious soul food is making me hungry. Maybe I'll read some dusty books while I get my grub on. I highly recommend reading diverse authors as a source of knowledge and perspective, fellow commenters.

Posted by Soledad Song on May. 08, 2014 @ 7:19 pm

Then we cleaned it up.

Seriously, you are the most racist person here, because you see everything in terms of race. The rest of us have been post-racial for a long time, and have no need of such notions.

You are mired in the past, as was this bookstore, and it is very sad.

Posted by Guest on May. 08, 2014 @ 11:39 pm

Soledad Song, you took the words right out of my mouth! I am ashamed to share the same air with some of these people. Disgusting individuals. Hoping and praying for the best for all involved.

Posted by Amy Mills on May. 08, 2014 @ 7:51 pm
Posted by Guest on May. 08, 2014 @ 11:40 pm

Last I heard, Everyone who is working class is losing out in San Francisco. Gays, Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Indians, and the Working class that keep our restaurants open, our gas stations open, our hair salons open and our Fast Food restaurants open. I work next to Marcus Books, and I can tell you that Fillmore street is doing pretty good if you are rich, white, and upwardly mobile. Plenty of shops and boutiques that cater to the wealthy.

This is not a race issue at all.

This is a sign of the times in San Francisco.

I would also like to mention that missing a rent payment or two, is certainly reason for any landlord in this climate to kick someone out. Good luck to Marcus Books!

Posted by Guestblackvenus on May. 09, 2014 @ 2:39 am

whites for criticism.

Oh, and Marcus did not "miss a rent payment or two". they've been in serious arrears for a long time, and their landlord has actually been very tolerant.

Posted by Guest on May. 09, 2014 @ 4:03 am

I hope they put a Chipotle's there. I support Hispanic People of Color, and anyone who doesn't is racist.

Posted by Chromefields on May. 09, 2014 @ 7:32 am

I prefer Hispanic food to black food. Black food is just bad, cheap, unhealthy white peoples' food. But Hispanic food is, well, kinda fatty, greasy and unhealthy. But I feel better eating it knowing that it has been served by an illegal person of illegality, ya know?

Posted by Guest on May. 09, 2014 @ 7:55 am

Some of these comments are really discusting. A lot of the people buying people out occupants in SF are foriegn and Indian, why are white people being hated on so much?

Posted by Guest on May. 09, 2014 @ 10:14 am

The reward whites get for abandoning racism is to be the targets of racism from non-white opportunists who now think it is open season to behave as badly as possible and get a pass because they are "colored people of color".

The hatred, particularly from Hispanics and blacks, is stunning. And this kneejerk rationalization of a bookstore that was a monumental failure running a race-based business strategy is lamentable.

To hell with Marcus and their institutionalized bigotry.

Posted by Guest on May. 09, 2014 @ 10:30 am

Was this intended to be posted in the humor section?

Posted by marcos on May. 09, 2014 @ 10:40 am

Do you really not think that political correctness has not reversed the entire racial dynamic, making whites the victims of racial oppression?

Posted by Guest on May. 09, 2014 @ 10:55 am

How do you make it through the day?

Posted by marcos on May. 09, 2014 @ 5:43 pm

As do most people who are not card-players.

Posted by Guest on May. 09, 2014 @ 10:41 pm

Making renters pay the rent they agreed to pay is rayyyccesss.

Posted by Guest on May. 09, 2014 @ 9:42 pm

This is me:
a) These comments are racist hate speech.
b) Marcus Books should be given special treatment, because they are special.

These are the trolls:
You said they lost their building because of their race!
You hate white people!

It's a lost cause.

(By the way, I believe the Sweis family is Jordanian, not Caucasian.

It is perfectly within the bounds of logic to appreciate black people while not being black or hating white people. You don't have to choose sides or be self-interested and create false dichotomies.)

Posted by Soledad Song on May. 10, 2014 @ 3:25 pm
Posted by Guest on May. 10, 2014 @ 9:02 pm

The reading room of the British Museum has works by all races
and cultures.

do you know what the word myopia means?

Considering that it can accurately describe your typical briton, any where...

Posted by Guest on May. 12, 2014 @ 1:15 pm

decay is the hallmark of capitalism, nothing less...

and no, you don't speak for Fillmore, SF, California, America

You're just some white male / female turd or worse yet a self loathing, anglo philic gas bag with the intellectual ability of a beach pebble.

Please pay attention to the "worse yet" sub qualifier in my last sentence...

Posted by Guest on May. 12, 2014 @ 1:18 pm

"And this bookstore, by stereotyping race, was part of that bigotry."

Ladies and Gentlemen, the sentence above are the fruits of white male / female anti intellectual reasoning.

I supposed it is "unreason" (sic)

Posted by anti-whitemale on May. 12, 2014 @ 1:20 pm

"Ladies and Gentlemen, the sentence above are the fruits of white male / female anti intellectual reasoning."

"Ladies and Gentlemen, the sentence above are the fruits of black male / female anti intellectual reasoning."

Posted by Guest on May. 13, 2014 @ 7:47 pm

and please understand one fucking thing ;

this irishman don't have no love for the crown!

the british museum is a product of the kingdom, a product of white hegemony not in spite of it.

(that'd be nice,)

white male herpes sore(s) of sucka free; keep your head on a swivel

Posted by Guest on May. 12, 2014 @ 1:24 pm

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