October 12, 2016
Saluting two fallen bookstores
by Ryan Harrington
These are restless times for revolutionary bookstores. Last week we wrote about In Other Words—the feminist bookstore and community space portrayed as Women and Women First in Portlandia—discontinuing its relationship with that show. Now it seems that two beloved independent bookstores will be calling it a day: San Francisco’s Modern Times and Honolulu’s Revolution Books.
Modern Times has been operating since 1971. It moved to the Mission District in 1980, becoming one of the first alternative businesses in the area. It even managed to expand in that location in 1991. But, as we know, that trend was doomed to reverse. The forces of gentrification pushed the store to its current location on Twenty-fourth Street in 2011, and those same forces have now pushed the shop out for good. As Mabel Jiménez reports for El Tecolote, tthe store will close its doors effective November 15. How better to eulogize Modern Times than with these defiant lines from their mission statement:
With the dominance of chainstores and the consequent threat to independent booksellers, we came to realize that maintaining a strong and viable independent bookstore was in many ways the most politically effective thing we could do. We also observed that small and independent presses were fighting similar battles, and that their survival is essential to our surviva. Generally a quarter or more of our bestselling titles are from small presses and they remain our specialty. We try to maintain a balance between larger, more established presses, and small literary and poetry presses. Happily, we rely on enough small presses to keep our events calendar filled for years to come.
Honolulu’s Revolution Books is also a member of the quadragenarian club. And its story is a similar one. After forming in 1976 as a bastion of revolutionary literature (and one of several nationwide gathering points, all with the same name, for members of the Revolutionary Communist Party), it moved to Honolulu’s university district two years later. Ultimately, as Jackie Young reports for Hawaii Public Radio, “the financial challenges of running a brick-and-mortar location have taken their toll on the all-volunteer staff, especially after being told their current building is being demolished.” Their last day will be October 20th, though they will exist in pop-up form over the coming months. How better to eulogize them than with this cautiously optimistic quote from Carolyn Hadfield, the store’s general manager: “In larger cities, bookstores are closing down because of the huge financial problems. In smaller towns, it seems bookstores are actually opening in some areas, as both social areas and for books — gathering places, which is what we have been.”
Very well done, Revolution Books and Modern Times — we’re sad to see you go.
Ryan Harrington is a senior editor at Melville House.