Since 1971, Modern Times Bookstore Collective has tried to be a progressive force in the Bay Area. But several years ago its mission became stymied due to rising rents on Valencia Street in the Mission District of San Francisco. After two public appeals for money in 2010 and again in 2011, it looked like things were looking up despite the landlord’s decision not to renew their lease. But late last year the bookstore was forced to launch a two-pronged “Save Modern Times” campaign to raise the $100,000.
On their Web site, the collective asks those seeking to make a donation to do so through their fiscal sponsor, which provides them with nonprofit status for donations, PeaceKey, Inc., a nonprofit formed to develop charter schools. On Indiegogo, they’re trying to raise $60,000. With a little over two weeks left, it seems unlikely. The bookstore has nearly 90% to go. “If the Indiegogo campaign and the major fundraiser campaign fall flat, we will have to close the doors,” collective member and events coordinator Lex Non Scripta told PW. “It’s not like we’ll close on February 1. We plan on being open through the summer.”
An e-mail blast from Modern Times back in 2011 indicated that the bookstore needed only a temporary place until it moved in with Busboys & Poets. The multi-store Washington, D.C.-based Busboys & Poets, which combines food with food for thought, was interested in partnering with the bookstore as part of their effort to move West. That temporary, less expensive space, in a less trafficked part of the Mission has been Modern Times’s home for the past three years. While the proposed move to the Busboys & Poets building is still on the backburner, according to Non Scripta, the bookstore needs money to pay off debts incurred from “absurd” rent in Valencia, the cost of the move, and a decline in foot traffic. It would also like to improve its space. Unfortunately, she says, “the holidays weren’t as good as they have been in the past. The actual dollars coming in were a little bit less than what we were expecting.”
“The problem,” says Hut Landon, executive director of the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association, “is not a bookselling one. The rents have skyrocketed and people have had to move out of the city. That has spilled over to the retail side, the merchant side. Stores like Modern Times get priced out. You’re not going to hear about a lot of new bookstores opening here. It’s getting harder. There’s no place to go.”
Across the country, things are looking up for another book collective, Food for Thought in Amherst, Mass., which just completed an Indiegogo campaign to raise $38,000 to make it through its 38th year. By the end of 2013, it had slightly exceeded its goal and is now in the midst of renovating its store. It closed on Christmas Day to begin downsizing and construction. It plans to reopen next week.