Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Happy Birthday: City Lights Bookstore Turns 60

Shelf Awareness

It's not every day that you see a crowd of people packed inside a bookstore and a line extending around the block--but that's how it looked for several hours on Sunday as City Lights Bookstore, San Francisco, Calif., hosted a party for its friends and fans to mark its 60th birthday. It seemed fitting that on a day to honor the place that snubbed the law and published Allen Ginsberg's Howl and became a home of the Beat poets, you could hear bongos played at the party all the way to downtown San Francisco.

Nancy Peters and Lawrence Ferlinghetti
Ten years ago, celebrated founder Lawrence Ferlinghetti and his business partner Nancy Peters were planning for the long-term future of the store and its publishing company. Ten years later--and not looking even a day older--the 93-year-old Ferlinghetti marked the milestone surrounded by the kind of people he likes best: book lovers. His hand-printed signs that say "Sit down and read a book!" still adorn the walls in their own home-sweet-home kind of way.

On Sunday, City Lights once again filled the air with music and poetry, with simultaneous performances in the store and spilling out into the next-door alley named for Jack Kerouac.

As for the future, Peters and Ferlinghetti are pleased to give a nod to the store's staff, led by Elaine Katzenberger, publisher and executive director; Paul Yamazaki, head book buyer; Andy Bellows, store manager; and Peter Maravelis, events coordinator, who keep the business thriving. "I'm good at picking the right people to do all the work for me so that I can write and paint," Ferlinghetti has said.
Those who work with Ferlinghetti know how hard he toiled to keep City Lights a community center and make it a destination for locals and tourists alike. It was a novel idea back in 1953 to open a paperback-only bookstore, which Ferlinghetti did with $500 seed money. The store now sells all kinds of books and magazines--provocatively stacking left- and right-wing political publications side-by-side--the better to help open peoples' minds, which has always been the store's philosophy.
"I found it totally inspiring to see so many people who wanted to come out and celebrate the store," said Katzenberger.

New signs above the store give these instructions: "Open door. Open book. Open mind." As the several hundreds of friends and fans who came out to celebrate City Lights at 60 were happy to note, the signs might change, but the intention (really, an invitation) of City Lights remains the same. --Bridget Kinsella

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