Modern Times Bookstore In Debt, Seeking Community Support

Modern Times Bookstore Collective on 24th Street, 2013

Modern Times Bookstore Collective on 24th Street, 2013

En Español.

With a debt collective members estimate to be $100,000, members of the Modern Times Bookstore Collective told supporters at a meeting last week that the 41-year-old bookstore may have to close its doors in September.

As a result, the Mission landmark that specializes in politically progressive volumes, is rethinking its operating plan in order to survive economic shocks of the internet age along with competition and gentrification, managers of the collective said.

“We all know that we can’t just sell books,” Lex Non Scripta, the collective’s event planner, said of Modern Times and other independent bookstores struggling to stay afloat. “We have to look at other ways to sustain the stores, like programing events or having cafes. We are all looking to a long-time sustainability plan.” Borderlands Books on Valencia Street told Mission Local in 2010 that they opened a cafe in order to help sustain their book sales.

The collective members said they are asking for a skilled base of volunteers including lawyers, marketing and PR experts, and fundraising professionals who can help to shape future plans and develop alternative revenue sources such as online sales.

From its current location on 24th Street, collective members said the bookstore is suffering not just from global upheaval in publishing and the shift to the digital media consumption, but also from local competition. A newly opened bookshop just a few blocks away is a positive presence in the community, members of the collective said, but might also negatively affect sales at Modern Times.

In addition to expanding its online presence, community members discussed a possible crowd funding campaign – a course of action that has helped Adobe Books, another financially distressed Mission District bookseller.

Modern Times has occupied four separate locations since it first opened, including one on Sanchez Street and more recently on Valencia.

Bookstore staffer Travis Culley said the Thursday evening meeting was “necessary, overdue, and exciting because something must change.  Who knows what shape [it] will take?  But there’s enough spirit to help, sustain and survive even the most complicated situation.”

Frankie Rivera, a Mission District resident and a Native American Rights activist was one of dozens of supporters who attended the recent meeting. “I came tonight because a lot of stores and businesses are being gentrified in the neighborhood and it’s sad,” he said.

Modern Times will hold a second meeting to rally support, the details of which have yet to be announced.

12 Comments

  1. Pamela

    Maybe an after school reading program.

  2. Elizabeth Zitrin

    “Frankie Rivera, a Mission District resident and a Native American Rights activist was one of dozens of supporters who attended the recent meeting. ‘I came tonight because a lot of stores and businesses are being gentrified in the neighborhood and it’s sad,’ he said.”
    I think Mr. Rivera is misinformed. People with more money living in the neighborhood is not what is causing bookstores to close. In fact, the people with more money are the ones most likely to keep bookstores open.
    What has been causing independent bookstores to close is online book-selling. Before that it was chain bookstores under-pricing local bookstores.
    We all need to be thoughtful about what we say.

    • I agree. I buy books at Modern Times. It’s one of my favorite stores in the Mission. But no matter how many books I buy there, I can’t make up for all the lost sales to Amazon.com.

    • Frankly I buy from Amazon because the UPS guy is a lot friendlier and more helpful than the hostile employees at Modern Times.

      • RhinestoneGrrl

        I couldn’t agree with you more!

        • Missionresident

          This is so true – I stopped going to Modern Times many years ago because of the attitude I would get in there from the employees. This was not a friendly and community place in the mission.

      • Pete G

        I was there not too long ago to buy a book, waited about 10 minutes for the cashier to end his conversation with another customer or at least ask me if there was something I was looking for or “i’ll be right with you” or some type of customer service. I left and ordered the book on line. You can lead the horse to water, but you can;t make him drink.

    • TC

      I think the comment on gentrification has more to do with the cost of rent than whether or not people have money to buy books. Bookstores can’t afford ever-increasing rents when they have such low profit margins. It’s just one part of the problem, but it’s a big problem in the Mission right now.

      • Elizabeth Zitrin

        @TC, that’s a fair comment, and certainly rents have gone up in SOME parts of the Mission. But look at the recent history of independent bookstores. Rent has not been the principal reason for their failure. Of course some bookstores remain — Borderlands among them. Books, Inc. is in the probably very expensive former Cover to Cover spot at Opera Plaza and Green Apple still has two stores accommodating its stock. And of course City Lights.
        There have been several efforts by independent booksellers to join together for online selling.
        I don’t know what the answer might be for Modern Times — getting a partner, or an added line of business, or finding some other business model — nonprofit perhaps with a benefactor. I know I like browsing and buying in bookstores, and I also like the utter convenience of buying online.

  3. Meo

    Maybe they need a new business model?

  4. L

    Independent bookstores have had trouble for years. This is nothing new. However, Modern Times is cramped and the people who work there make an icicle seem friendly.

  5. Bob

    Maybe the staff can take a training in basic customer service skills. I was there recently too and found them to be rude, ill mannered and unfriendly. I ended up leaving my books there and ordering them online because I don’t like to give money to hostile people, or to the businesses that keep them employed. I own a small business and would fire anyone who acts the way these employees act.

    Smiling, saying “please” and “thank you”, go a long way.

    They would probably be staying open if they developed some basic courtesy and treated their customers better. I left and will never go back to that store. No matter how entitled you feel, you don’t have a right to my money just cause you’re “progressive and independent” . I am too. I’m also courteous and want to give my money to business that share my values or respecting the customer.

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