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Best Bookstore We’re Rooting for to Survive 

Modern Times Bookstore Collective

Wednesday, May 6 2015

2919 24th St., 415-282-9246

San Francisco is built on the bones of beloved bookstores. A Different Light, which peddled LGBT-focused books in the Castro until shuttering in 2011, is now a posh men's boutique. Marcus Books, a black-owned business that narrowly survived the 1960s redevelopment of the Fillmore, was evicted in May 2014 after being designated a historic landmark by City Hall.

In the Mission, the Modern Times Bookstore Collective has been determined to carry on the progressive fight since it was founded in 1971.

It's a platonic ideal of a used bookstore, a place to while away an afternoon amid haphazard stacks of dog-eared books and even some new releases, a place where the amiable staff is more than willing to put down their vegetarian burritos to help you find that special tome. It's also a nexus for hard-to-find zines, progressive texts in English and Spanish, and community events such as its ongoing forums on gentrification.

Unfortunately, gentrification is also bearing down hard on Modern Times.

"We've certainly always cared about gentrification and development that favors rich people," says Ruth Mahaney, a member of the collective since 1981 who was staffing the store on a recent afternoon. "It's always been what we're about, but it's also hit us personally. Now, being in the Mission and watching it change so fast ... it's hard. "

The bookstore, which occupies a block of 24th Street where Spanish is still regularly heard on the streets, at least for now, has survived being bumped from its prime Valencia Street location due to the same rising rents that are also affecting its customer base.

"A lot of our stalwart customers have moved elsewhere because of high rents," Mahaney says.

The Spanish-language book club still meets there, and on any given Sunday you might find a spoken-word performance or the authors of Island: Poetry and History of Chinese Immigrants and Angel Island 1910-1940 shedding light on the detained Chinese immigrants who scratched desperate poetry on barrack walls.

But the bookstore is hurting now, and is looking to the community for financial support — even just by buying some cool books or trinkets — as it offers more special events and looks at applying for grants.

"We've never been a hugely profit-making enterprise. And that's never what we were trying to do," Mahaney says, reflecting on the changing landscape for brick-and-mortar bookstores in the city. "But even the places that did try to do that ended up going out of business."

(Sorry, no information is currently available for other years in this same award category.)


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