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Midnight Special leaves Promenade

by Jorge Casuso (from The Lookout News) Tuesday, Jul. 09, 2002 at 11:53 AM

After ten years on the Third Street Promenade, Midnight Special Bookstore is being forced to re-locate.

The LookOut news- Santa Monica's Only Source of Daily News

Midnight Special to Leave Promenade

By Jorge Casuso

July 7 -- Known for its steady sale of "The Communist Manifesto," the Midnight Special Bookstore announced Friday that its landlord can no longer protect it from the market forces that have turned the Third Street Promenade into a bastion of capitalism.

After 10 years at its current location and nearly two decades on Third Street, the independent bookstore -- which has been a beacon of radical thought in the increasingly corporate world of retail book selling -- will
move out at the beginning of next year.

"For the past 13 years, Wally Marks and his family have always been there for the Midnight Special," owner Margie Ghiz wrote in an email sent to the store's customers and supporters. "In addition to their constant encouragement and support, they have subsidized the bookstore during a period when the value of rental property has increased dramatically.

"After all these years however, circumstances no longer permit the owners of the property to sustain this substantial subsidy," Ghiz wrote. "So, it is now time for the Midnight Special to move on to a new stage, a new place."

Civic leaders, who have bemoaned the loss of independent stores from the Promenade, were taken aback by the news that the bookstore, with its
provocative window displays and its meeting room where alternative views were championed, is moving out.

"We've been so fortunate for so long to have this important literary center in the heart of Santa Monica, and the fact that it's time for them to move is just devastating news," said Kathleen Rawson, executive director of the
Bayside District Corporation, which runs the Downtown.

"The good news is that they're not closing," Rawson said. "Her (Ghiz's) display windows are fantastic. You need people to stir the pot, and we're sure going to miss her."

"I wish that more Downtown property owners," said Mayor Michael Feinstein, "had exercised some restraint on behalf of the district as did Wally Marks for so many years in not chasing the highest rents regardless of the uses.

"If more property owners had done that," Feinstein said, "we would not see the unhealthy level of commercial rents that we do today that is helping lead to this destructive gentrification."

Former Mayor Paul Rosenstein said: "The tragic loss of the Midnight Special from the Promenade follows the loss of other independent bookstores and restaurants. The gentrification and corporatization of what used to be a
diverse community is hard to watch."

The Midnight Special was able to survive on the thriving Promenade -- where rents have reached as high as $10 a square foot -- thanks to the longstanding support of Wally Marks Sr.

Marks, Ghiz wrote, walked into the store in the old Santa Monica Mall in the late 1980s "with his dream for something bigger and more ambitious, a louder voice for people and ideas that go too often unnoticed and unheard.

"Wally believed in us more than we believed in ourselves," Ghiz wrote. "He pushed and encouraged us. He gave of himself, and his family contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to build a new store as beautiful as the ideals we strive for."

For the next decade, as Promenade rents skyrocketed to the top of the Southern California market, Marks kept the rents low, helping Midnight Special survive competition from Barnes & Noble to the north and Borders to the south.

In her struggle to survive, Ghiz became a passionate advocate of independent booksellers, especially those who offered an alternative to mainstream views.

"We're fighting over freedom of thought and diversity in our culture," Ghiz told ForeWord Online in an interview five years ago. "We're trying to see if local bookstores survive or if the decisions about what we read will be made by corporations.

"Our survival is linked to the survival of other independent art forms and expressions," Ghiz said. "I don't think we'll ever go down, but we're heading into a very dark period."
While chain bookstores carry a large and wide-ranging inventory, Midnight Special focuses on political and social titles, ringing up more than 1,200 copies of Karl Marx's "Communist Manifesto" during the past decade and more
than 1,000 copies of Noam Chomsky's book "9/11" in half a year.

Using as its slogan Bertolt Brecht's quote, "Hungry man, reach for the book, it is a weapon," Midnight Special has turned the purchase of a book into a political act, with steady customers making a statement by gladly paying
higher prices than those charged at competing retail chains.

"Superstores, such as Borders (a subsidiary of K-Mart), are able to stock books in high volume and offer discounts," says the Midnight Special Web site. "But their emphasis on profit maximization prevents them from
supporting books or areas of interest that may not sell well, but expose readers to new ideas. Corporatism prevents them from expressing any kind of passion, or taking risks, or engaging in dialogue with their neighborhoods."

The Midnight Special Bookstore was started 32 years ago in Venice by civil rights activists as a "labor of love," Ghiz said. By the end of its first year, two of its founders had been arrested and jailed for refusing to give the FBI the names of their friends and customers who were attending
anti-Vietnam War meetings.

"A proud beginning!" Ghiz wrote in her email. "Over the next 15 years, according to our accountant (himself a volunteer), the community donated over 1,000,000 hours of labor to sustain the bookstore and insure the survival of
seldom heard voices. The Midnight Special is the diverse voices and views of Los Angeles."

Copyright =C2=A91999, 2000, 2001 surfsantamonica.com. All Rights Reserved.


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Listed below are the 10 latest comments of 7 posted about this article.
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Reader Alex Safonov Wednesday, Jul. 10, 2002 at 10:39 AM
A true loss Sk! Wednesday, Jul. 10, 2002 at 4:05 PM
Does that mean Olin will be unemployed? his biggest fan Thursday, Jul. 11, 2002 at 6:30 AM
They have it Donas John Thursday, Jul. 11, 2002 at 11:19 AM
Jum from Midnightbook store Anti jim Saturday, Jul. 13, 2002 at 8:00 AM
Mr. Pete Sunday, Jul. 14, 2002 at 5:17 PM
You Suck Michael Hunt Thursday, Jul. 18, 2002 at 1:28 PM
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