Publisher of Allen Ginsberg's Howl, City Lights Books has been an icon of San Francisco since 1953. (Photo by @danieltriassi)

You rock, San Francisco: GoFundMe donations top $250,000 to save City Lights Books

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My heart sank when I saw the headline. City Lights Books on the verge of closing. I held my breath, and clicked to take in the news.

Closed since March 16th due to the shelter in place mandate, our city's most beloved bookstore—that well-tattered North Beach landmark and vestige of old San Francisco where founder and poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, now 101 years old, once dared to publish and defend Allen Ginsberg's Howl—is running out of cash. As if it weren't hard enough to be an independent bookstore in the 21st century anyway, City Lights Books is facing a dark, unwritten chapter: the one in which Covid-19 makes all its revenue vanish into nowhere.


On Thursday, City Lights' publisher Elaine Katzenberger launched a GoFundMe campaign with the hope of continuing to pay the store's staff in full, plus healthcare. According to SFGate on Friday morning, the campaign had already raised $60,000 of its $300,000 goal. I clicked to donate...then something glorious happened.

By noon on Friday, nearly 5,000 donors had already pledged just over $250,000 to save SF's most iconic bookshop, the birthplace of Beat. Happy tears pooled in my eyes as I donated my few bucks and chose to believe that City Lights is going nowhere. In the 10 or 15 minutes it took me to write this far, donations had topped $265,000.

None of us can know what our local landscape will look like once this virus has run its wrecking course, but one thing is sure: The beat will go on.

Donate to keep City Books Alive at GoFundMe.

*UPDATE Sat. April 11, 11am: City Lights' GoFundMe has raised over $390,000.

*UPDATE Mon. April 13th: City Lights' GoFundMe reaches over $450,000.


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