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Wolfman Books, closed by the pandemic, to reopen under new name and ownership

Wolfman Books, closed by the pandemic, to reopen under new name and ownership

Lydia Kiesling, author of “The Golden State,” speaks during an author event at the now-closed Wolfman General Interest Small Bookstore last year. The Oakland bookstore shuttered in July, but the 13th Street space will soon reopen as a community center led by five former employees. Photo: Scott Strazzante / The Chronicle 2019

Wolfman Books, a narrow Oakland storefront and cultural center that closed permanently in July, will soon be resurrected by the store’s former employees.

A group of five determined and optimistic workers who call themselves “Wolfemme + Them” will take over the space at 410 13th St. as soon as Saturday, Aug. 15. They secured a one-year lease and will have to start from scratch because everything, including the bookcases, tables and furniture were removed before or during Wolfman’s closing party.

A single name that encompasses both Wolfemme + Them and the store itself will be announced on the Wolfman Books Instagram account (@wolfman_books) in the coming days, the group said. Whatever the name, the store promises to be a co-op bookstore and community center for creative collaboration and organizing. It will not be registered as a nonprofit, but the expectation is that it will operate that way.

“We are five former Wolfman employees, but the new space is completely different and not an iteration of Wolfman Books,” said Samantha Maria Espinoza, one of the partners, in a video conference call with The Chronicle.

“We are really into transparency,” added Tara Marsden.

The other partners are Jevohn Tyler Newsome, Sophia Schultz Rocha and Lukaza Branfman-Verissimo.

The 750-square-foot space is located one block from the 12th Street/Oakland City Center BART Station. Under the original Wolfman configuration, it was packed in with bookcases, a publishing house, a screening room and a bathroom that was open to the public as well as customers. When the bookstore closed, founder and owner Justin Carder said he did not see how it could all fit in the new world of social distancing, so it will be an additional challenge with five owners instead of one. (For starters, they will be the only store staff and renovation crew.)

“We are still figuring out the physical space, but we plan on using it for the needs and wants of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) and QTPOC (Queer and Trans People of Color) communities, and the space will shift around that vision,” said Espinoza.

The five partners pooled resources to cover the upfront costs — first month’s rent of $1,600, plus that amount in a security deposit. Renovation, decoration and inventory is expected to cost $30,000, and they are already halfway to that goal as of Thursday, Aug. 13, thanks to nearly 200 donors pitching in to their online GoFundMe campaign.

The plan is to open in October and announce a schedule of events through the end of the year. These will include poetry readings that mix established poets with youth and emerging voices. They also plan to offer up the space for community fundraisers, political education and study groups.

“It will be a space for community care and mutual aid,” said Marsden, “and where we can grow with the wants, needs and visions of people of color.”

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