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PICO-UNION : Rebuilt Pathfinder Bookstore Opens

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After seven months at a temporary location, the Pathfinder Bookstore has been rebuilt after it and several other stores in the 2500 block of Pico Boulevard were destroyed in a fire during the spring riots.

Donations from publishers, contributions of money and labor from supporters and a year-end boost from sales of books compiling the speeches of Malcolm X helped get the bookstore back on its feet. The store is a retail outlet for New York-based Pathfinder Press, publisher of the speeches and writings of Malcolm X, Nelson Mandela and Che Guevara, Marxist classics and other political books.

Three days after the fire, the volunteers who run the store set up tables in front of the burned-out shell to sell the few books that remained, said Eli Green, a spokesman for the store and a former manager.

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“It was necessary to pull ourselves together and shake it off,” Green said. “We felt we had to get Malcolm X into the hands of people who were seeking some clarity about what happened.”

What happened, Green said, was “an anti-police riot” fueled by alleged incidents of police brutality, similar to incidents in New York City that Malcolm X spoke about in 1964.

“But this time, nothing got advanced on a political level,” Green said. “People got jammed up. People lost their lives. (The riots) demonstrated the anger, feelings of helplessness and the level of despair out there. Our task was to help pull things back together.”

Although the building’s landlord was insured, the bookstore was not, Green said. The fire destroyed nearly all the store’s inventory, its library of out-of-print books and newspapers dating back to the 1930s and all of its office equipment. Damage was estimated at $20,000, he said.

But volunteers who sell books on campuses and at work sites had some books stored in their cars and a number of customers who had bought Pathfinder books returned them to help replenish its stock, Green said.

The bookstore moved to a temporary site in a nearby storefront as fund raising and reconstruction began.

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In May, participants in the American Booksellers Assn. convention in Anaheim organized fund-raising campaigns for Pathfinder and the Aquarian Bookstore at 3995 S. Western Ave., a black-owned bookstore that had been in operation since 1941. The Aquarian also burned down during the riots.

Additional pledges of cash, credit or books came from the Southern California Booksellers Assn., Random House, Ingram Books, Multicultural Publishers Exchange and bookstores in New Mexico, New York, San Francisco and elsewhere, Green said.

Alice Walker and Dutton’s Books donated the proceeds of Walker’s book-signing event at Dutton’s Brentwood branch, he said.

About $22,000 has been raised to pay for construction and new books, which include many Spanish-language editions, Green said.

Volunteers built bookshelves, installed plumbing and electrical wiring, painted walls and signs, and put in new carpeting in the rebuilt store at 2546-C Pico Blvd., said Gale Shangold, a volunteer.

For the last 10 years, the Pico-Union location has drawn a variety of customers, including immigrants from El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua who are eager to find political books on those countries, Green said.

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“This is a good time for us,” Shangold said. “People are really looking for leadership and answers to economic and social problems.”

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