A Modern tragedy - Page 2

Important progressive bookstore and gathering place facing closure

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SF Examiner photo by Cindy Chew

Modern Times has reached out to the community for the help it needs with an Indiegogo campaign. Donations can be made via the Indiegogo website at www.indiegogo.com/projects/save-modern-times-books, or to the bookstore itself, either on its website or in person.

Friends are spreading the word through e-mail and Facebook. During meetings held in the store, these people have spoken up about how important its presence is in the city, and how much they want to see it survive. If the money cannot be raised in time, there is a good chance that Modern Times will shut down.

"We really, really don't want to do that," Mahaney is quick to declare, "but we cannot continue to operate at a loss at this point."

Changing city

When the bookstore first moved to Valencia in 1991, the street was very different. Then, gentrification hit quick and hard. Witnessing the same transformation on 24th Street, the purveyors of Modern Times have joined the anti-gentrification and anti-eviction cause. It might be too late though; the twin plagues might have already fatally infected the bookstore.

"I've known Modern Times as a really important part of the fabric of the city since they opened," says Paul Yamazaki, a coordinating buyer for City Lights, the legendary local independent bookstore harking back from the days of the Beat Generation. "They were not only great booksellers, they were also great citizens of San Francisco."

City Lights is doing remarkably well, considering the recent economic crisis and the specific hardships that have afflicted the print industry. The last three years have been its best three years, but Yamazaki sees what's happening to the city.

"We're losing our economic diversity, which has been such a key part of how San Francisco has developed," Yamazaki states. "When we lose artists and arts organizations, we lose another thread of that tapestry that's made San Francisco such a rich and vital place, that diversity of voices. And if we let this continue happening, we'll walk down 24th Street 10 years from now, and we'll see not a lot of independent businesses, but a lot of places that look like anywhere else in the United States."

Whenever Yamazaki finds himself on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, where the independent bookstore Cody's Books stood from 1956 to 2008, he feels a hole in his heart. He knows the hole made by Modern Times will be even bigger because of the bookstore's unique political role here.

"It represents a real important part of the politics of the Bay Area, and has been able to keep us informed about a variety of issues throughout its years," he explains.

This is the bookstore whose phone rang off the hook when the Gulf War began, with calls from people from all over the city who wanted to educate themselves about the Middle East and the economics of oil. In the immediate wake of 9/11, it was here that one could attend a series of lectures investigating media and military responses to the event.

Back in the heyday of protests and demonstrations, Modern Times was who you called to ask where the rally would be starting that day. And if you were arrested by the evening, your one phone call would often go to Modern Times as well, and they would find you a lawyer. There aren't as many demonstrations as there used to be, but the bookstore remains a crucial source of progressive political information because it has never abandoned its core objective—the mission of keeping dissident ideas in circulation.

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