“Modern Times is facing a financial crisis and urgently needs an influx of cash if we are going to be able to pay our bills through the summer,” the letter reads. “The cold, hard economic facts are these: We need to sell a certain amount everyday in order to break even on costs — taxes, rent, payroll, utilities, insurance, and new books — and right now we are not doing this.”
Over the last decade, the Mission’s independent bookstores, many of which have been here for decades, have struggled against one new competitor after another, including mega-bookstores, online sales and now e-books.
Abandoned Planet, formerly on Valencia, closed in January when its landlord asked it to leave, and Adobe Books on 16th Street is barely making it. Alan Beatts, the owner of Borderlands Books and the Borderlands Café next door, told Mission Loc@l in January that he opened the café because he doesn’t see bookstores alone as viable businesses.
One of the worker-owners of the Modern Times collective, which first opened in 1971 on 17th Street at Sanchez, said they’re not yet ready to talk to the press.
But the letter states that the owners believe the bookstore remains viable if they can raise enough money to make it through to the more “lucrative months” in the fall and holiday season. If every resident donated $10, the letter states, they would have enough to continue operating for three months. “Donations of between $30 to $100 would be enough for us to keep our doors open, hopefully for good.”
The 39-year-old bookstore, which moved to its current location in 1991, nearly closed in 2005, an experience referred to in the letter. It survived after partnering with New College to become the college’s bookstore.
During the last decade many independent bookstores have added online sales, but this does not appear to be the case with Mission bookstores; of the three on Valencia and the two on 16th, only Borderlands appears to be selling books from its website.
If they were to do so, new opportunities are opening up, according to the executive director of the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association, Hut Landon.
Google will launch an e-book store this fall, and plans to allow other bookstores to sell its e-books through their websites.
“There are still lots of customers,” Landon said. “If they have a choice, they will choose the independent.”
Landon added that going online would only boost business, because people still like to go to bookstores and draw on employees’ knowledge and experience.
Despite the slowdown in sales, the association’s membership has remained steady for the past three years, Landon said. Bookstores in corridors like Valencia have a better chance of survival, he added.
“The retail spaces are in sync with each other — they depend on each other.”
In the long run, the survival of bookstores is really up to the community, Landon said.
“If you don’t support them they are going to go away. If you care about your neighborhood, you have to support the shopping environment that makes it appealing.”
Modern Times makes the same plea to the community.
“In these challenging times, we stand with many other community-based businesses and organizations that are surviving capitalism through the strength of their communities,” the owners’ letter reads. ”Please be a part of helping us thrive.”
To find out more about how to support Modern Times, click here.