Marcus Books supporters remain hopeful despite falling short of fundraising goal 

The deadline has passed for the owners of Marcus Books to raise enough money to buy back the Fillmore district building they owned for decades, but community members remain hopeful that the country’s oldest black bookstore can still be preserved.

Among the remaining options laid out for supporters at a town hall meeting at the bookstore Saturday, the least popular was to help Karen and Greg Johnson essentially begin the process of packing up their longtime bookstore and leaving, according to Grace Martinez, a community organizer for the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment.

“That was met with silence,” said Martinez, an advocate for the Johnsons. “We instantly moved on to option No. 2: we fight.”

The Johnsons, who originally bought the property in 1981, have been involved in a legal and financial struggle since it was purchased by another couple at the beginning of last year for $1.6 million during a bankruptcy auction.

Ever since then, the Johnsons have been trying to raise enough money to buy back the Victorian building, which The City recently deemed a historical landmark. Western Community Services, a Fillmore-based nonprofit, offered them a loan covering about two-thirds of the $2.6 million purchase agreement.

The Johnsons then attempted to accumulate the remaining $1 million through an online fundraising site, but when their Feb. 28 deadline to raise the money passed, they were still about $750,000 shy of reaching their goal.

Now, the couple — who lived in the building until last summer — likely face the eviction of their shop, as well as their daughter and her family, who still live in one of the units in the building. Until Saturday’s meeting the family had remained relatively silent while contemplating the next step.

“The Johnsons are really trying to figure out what legally they can do,” Martinez said. “They’re still talking to investors. But they want to fight and take it to the end.”

The community also remains committed to backing them up, as was evident at Saturday’s meeting, according to Martinez.

“This bookstore isn’t just about the bookstore, it’s about the building,” Martinez said. “It’s like the roots of the African-American community.”

Carlos Levexier, who lives with the Johnsons’ daughter, also remains hopeful that the store will stay open. Their 6-year-old girl is poised to become the future CEO of Marcus Books, he said with a laugh Sunday.

Levexier noted he has been coming to Marcus Books since he was a child himself and would like to see its history carry on.

“I grew up being connected to that community resource,” he said.

About The Author

Laura Dudnick

Laura Dudnick, a Bay Area native, covers education and planning for The San Francisco Examiner. She previously worked as a senior local editor for, and as the San Mateo County bureau reporter and weekend editor for Bay City News Service.
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