San Francisco is a city filled with iconic landmarks, but for book lovers, there’s always been one place that stands out among the rest. City Lights Bookstore opened in the city’s North Beach neighborhood in the early 1950s and, along with Vesuvio Cafe across the street, quickly became the number one hangout for writers, readers, beat poets, and proto-hippies. In the decades since, City Lights has remained a cultural institution, a shining beacon of the city’s longstanding commitment to the arts and to intellectual curiosity. Now, like so many businesses around the country, they’re in trouble and looking for a little help.
“Our bookstore has been closed to the public since March 16 and must remain closed for an indefinite period of time,” writes City Lights CEO Elaine Katzenberger on the company’s new GoFundMe page. “With no way to generate income, our cash reserves are quickly dwindling, with bills coming due and with a primary commitment to our staff, who we sent home with full pay and healthcare, and who we hope to keep as healthy and financially secure as possible.”
If Katzenberger and the rest of the City Lights staff fail to make ends meet during this extended quarantine, there’s a distinct possibility the historic bookstore’s doors will remain closed forever. Unfortunately, independent bookstores shuttering is nothing new in this day and age, but the loss of City Lights would mean more than the loss of another place to buy On The Road in paperback. It would mean the loss of a piece of history.
With a projected goal of $300,000, City Lights has already generated over $150,000 from roughly 3,000 generous donors. “We know what a difficult and uncertain time this is for everyone, and we understand that there are many individuals and organizations in need,” Katzenberger writes. “If you’re in a position to support us we’ll be extremely grateful to receive that help.”
If you’re able, you can donate to City Lights’ GoFundMe campaign here.
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