by Karen and Greg Johnson, co-owners, SF Marcus Book Store

We first extend our family’s deep appreciation to all our supporters for the constant love and dedication and willingness they have shown to donate time, energy and money to retain the SF Marcus Book Store in the Jimbo’s Bop City-Marcus Books landmarked building and to keep the business in the hood. It’s been an uplifting experience.

Mayor Ed Lee makes one of many pledges to support Marcus Book Store as he shakes the hand of co-owner Greg Johnson. Mayor Lee knows that Marcus Books is not only the oldest Black book store in the U.S., but it is the only Black business to survive Redevelopment devastation of the once thriving, world renowned Black Fillmore District. It’s not too late. “We are asking Mayor Ed Lee to step up and actually do the right thing and save this crucial landmark we all need,” Greg says. – Photo: The Foghorn, USF

The purpose of this particular article is to clear up misconceptions that have surfaced about Marcus Book Store.

By now, most people are aware that in May 2014 San Francisco Marcus Book Store became the site of a tragic event: The store was ransacked and dismantled in broad daylight by the people who acquired the building in a bankruptcy sale. Their action was part of an overall scheme to publicly embarrass our family and dismantle an African American-owned legacy business recently designated by City officials as a cultural landmark.

Historical designation can be a good thing but it’s laughable being publicly praised by the Board of Supervisors and the mayor for Marcus Books’ contributions to the humanity of The City – Mayor Ed Lee even came to the store for a photo op, smiling widely and pledging his full support – and then quickly kicked to the curb and declared obsolete goods. Got to admit that we were perplexed by the timing.

We loved our home and store location and had been in court battles to retain the property to no avail. It was global public outcry that made the issue too large to sweep under the rug. A few days after another court hearing, the Sweisses changed the locks on the building.

For weeks they had initiated verbal agreements to allow us access to remove our inventory and then denied every date. Then they demanded that we testify in court against a family member who was still legally residing in the building as a condition to access. We declined to lie in court.

Karen Johnson and daughter Tamiko stand outside the officially landmarked Marcus Book Store a few months before it was ransacked by the Sweiss family. – Photo: Sara Bloomberg, KQED
Karen Johnson and daughter Tamiko stand outside the officially landmarked Marcus Book Store a few months before it was ransacked by the Sweiss family. – Photo: Sara Bloomberg, KQED

After a whole month of denying us access to our possessions, they hired workers to go into the store and demolish the bookcases and furniture, taking some inventory, throwing away other items, stealing musical instruments, sound systems, professional tools, art work and other miscellaneous items necessary to any retail store.

The Sweisses are accountable for their actions, morally and legally. Concerned people from both sides repelled by the devastation stepped in and demanded they return objects taken.

The incident brought in layers of complexity, high anxiety and trauma, yet we choose to handle the situation with dignity, seeking full compensation rather than retaliation. We embrace change in a positive spiritual way and stay focused on the value we bring to our community and others interested in expanding their knowledge about Black culture.

Marcus Books of San Francisco will continue to be a part of the San Francisco landscape. As co-owners of a cultural legacy, we are committed to maintaining the rich cultural heritage. There’s much more to come!

Our passion is wrapped up in the building, so naturally we plan to push the envelope and pursue discussion centered on repurchasing the property at a reasonable cost – rather than the $1 million the Sweisses added to their purchase price.

We urge our supporters to continue investing in this revolutionary movement to halt ordained greed. The Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE) and a number of courageous and passionate individuals continue to stand up and voice their displeasure at social injustice.

We urge our supporters to continue investing in this revolutionary movement to halt ordained greed. The Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE) and a number of courageous and passionate individuals continue to stand up and voice their displeasure at social injustice.

Marcus Books of San Francisco will continue to be a part of the San Francisco landscape. As co-owners of a cultural legacy, we are committed to maintaining the rich cultural heritage. There’s much more to come!

We would appreciate hearing back from the community and getting your thoughts on what services you would like the future Marcus Book Store to provide.

Gregory and Karen Johnson would like to hear from you – what Marcus Books means to you and what ideas you may have for restoring this incomparable treasure to the community that needs and loves it. Leave them a message at http://supportmarcusbooks.com/readers/.

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