If memory serves I believe I volunteered at Modern Times Bookstore in 1971, the year I moved to SF. That was also the year Modern Times opened, though I don’t think I knew that then. The collectively-run socialist bookstore was on the corner of 17th and Sanchez, a cozy inviting space where I met amazing people and got introduced to what are still some of my favorite books. (The Bluest Eye, The Dollmaker, Them, Enormous Changes at the Last Moment, among many others.) Socialist Revolution – a journal – used a room in the back of the store for their office, and I would overhear snippets of conversation about articles being written, and try to keep up with any gossip. I learned how to work the old-fashioned cash register and had a crush on a woman named Paula who worked at the store and played guitar. For 45 years, Modern Times Bookstore was always there. (Well, not at that location – in 1980 it moved to the Mission and then had to move again in 2011 when the rent was jacked up.) The bookstore nourished and supported the progressive community in the Bay Area (LAGAI, Gay Shame, and many other movement groups met there for years), and the changes the bookstore went through reflected changes in the movement itself.
From the bookstore’s website:
“Modern Times faced severe financial crisis; we responded by transforming our vision of what the store should be. We realized that by addressing ourselves only to self-defined political activists, we were not only appealing to a narrow and dwindling audience but also failing to meet our core objective of keeping dissident ideas in circulation.
“We realized that in order to become a viable bookstore, and to participate meaningfully in the culture around us, we’d have to address all the needs and interests of our community-from poetry to mysteries to cookbooks. And we realized that we could remain truest to our radical origins by seeking out and featuring the most innovative and cutting-edge work, whether it be fiction, cultural criticism, or politics.”
It’s hard for me to think of Modern Times without thinking of Tede (pronounced Teddy) Matthews, an incredible gay man (sissy faggot he would’ve said) who joined the MT collective in the 80s. Tede infused MT with new ideas (a Spanish books section, queer readings) and his vibrant queerness filled the store. Tede died of AIDS in 1993. Modern Times continued.
My connection to MT waxed and waned over the years but it was always a place to get amazing books and touch base with collective members Jean Pauline (until she retired and then I’d see her at demos) and Ruth Mahaney, who was always doing something interesting and developed the children’s book section into a remarkable one.
In November 2016, Modern Times closed its doors on 24th Street, a victim of gentrification and online book sales. We will miss it. — Deni