Nearly $400K in donations pour in for iconic San Francisco bookstore struggling amid coronavirus crisis

A man reads a book at the City Lights bookstore in San Francisco.
A man reads a book at the City Lights bookstore in San Francisco.(Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

A fund-raising campaign to save one of the country’s most beloved bookstores has raised nearly $400,000 in just two days.
On Thursday, the publisher and CEO of City Lights Booksellers and Publishers, Elaine Katzenberger, made the unsettling prediction that the coronavirus crisis could claim an American literary treasure as one of its many victims.
City Lights, the iconic and beloved bookstore widely accepted as a cornerstone for the book-loving community in the U.S. for almost 70 years, was on the brink permanently shutting its doors.
In an effort to save San Francisco’s world-famous shop, which was founded in 1953 by the Beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Katzenberger launched an online crowd-funding campaign entitled “Keep City Books Alive.”
“City Lights is faced with formidable challenges at present: our bookstore has been closed to the public since March 16, and must remain closed for an indefinite period of time,” the YouFundMe page reads.
Katzenberger, who’s worked at the store for the last 33 years, said that during all that time, “it has never once seemed possible that our momentum could falter and our project could fail,” she wrote.
The coronavirus pandemic, however, changed everything.
“Unlike some shops, we’re unable even to process online orders, since we want our booksellers to remain safely at home,” she wrote. “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.”
City Lights clearly needs help.

“If you’re in a position to support us we’ll be extremely grateful to receive that help, and any donation to this campaign will contribute to the cash resources we need to address the immediate future, to take care of our staff, and to create the structures to take City Lights into the future,” Katzenberger wrote.

Her message was heard loud and clear by the nearly 8,000 donations that are still pouring in. By Saturday morning, the campaign raised $387,282, easily surpassing its initial goal of $300,000.

“City Lights Bookstore and Mr. Lawrence Ferlinghetti are fundamental elements of that past. They must not be forgotten. They must not be abandoned. They must be held dear,” one of the donors wrote expressing the sentiment of many others.

At age 101, Ferlinghetti is a living literary legend. Last year on the occasion of his 100th birthday, the mayor of San Francisco, London Breed, proclaimed his birthday, March 24, as Lawrence Ferlinghetti Day.

His store in the northeast neighborhood of North Beach is an official city landmark. Besides being a local favorite book-lovers paradise, where people can buy anything from popular paperbacks to hard-to-get and specialty books, the shop also serves as ground zero for the creative community in San Francisco.

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