All Power Books, West Adams ‘radical space,’ faces eviction

Kevin Troy Swett filled a plastic bag with frozen meat and yogurt from a community fridge full of produce. From the nearby free food pantry, he grabbed a mask, wet wipes, Lipton iced tea, a flashlight and a battery.

It’s an April afternoon, and Swett, 54, is making a weekly visit to All Power Books – a collaborative bookstore, art space and community center in the historic West Adams district. Beside shelves of books on socialism and communism were boxes of donated food – butter, cakes, fruit – table display along the wall.

A few months ago, Swett, a former Marine who lives across the street, started stopping by the bookstore to check out the free clothing rack and pick up essentials. It has become an integral part of his life; The store organizers even gave him cash to buy medicine.

A bookshelf filled with non-removable items and other items

Free Shop items at All Power Books in West Adams.

(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

That day, Swett was less worried about his own needs than he was about the unique hybrid storefront he had visited. “This place is great,” he said, “and it needs help.”

All Power Books is more than a bookstore: It’s a community-supported, volunteer-run radical space committed to helping our neighbors. Its offerings include – for a start – a free store with food, toiletries, hygiene supplies, menstrual products and books; access to computers and printers with free Wi-Fi; a restroom open to everyone; resources on workers’ and tenants’ rights; a biweekly community clinic; and a space for other activists to meet. The organizers also distributed free bicycles and school supplies, brought locals to the DMV or doctor’s appointments, and raised money for specific individual needs (from vans to cellos) ) and provide free babysitting services.

“We are people, for people,” said Savannah Boyd, co-founder and co-host.

It’s the kind of place where many Angelenos might be surprised to exist – and indeed, its existence is precarious. Last month, the organizers learned that their lease would not be renewed; nearly 100 years old mixed-use building in need of major renovation. They will stay there at least until the end of May before possibly moving to a new, smaller location next door.

A man brings a box of food to the door with more boxes of food

Gage Nguyen, left, brings donated items to the free food table at All Power Books.

(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

Booksellers admit the building is in poor condition. Just a few weeks ago, a water heater from an empty room upstairs leaked water into the store below, damaging equipment and merchandise for up to $2,000. If the building permit is approved, the repair will include installation a new and restored girder and footboards the building’s foundation, according to the city’s construction and safety website.

Building owners are proposing a rent reduction during construction and, subsequently, a new three-year lease with a 38% increase, followed by a 3% annual increase, according to an email with the manager. real estate sent to All Power. Organizers are submitting a reciprocal proposal with one year at their current rate and a 20% rent with no annual increase, among other things. In any case, they signed a lease for the space next door.

Rent increases are nothing new in West Adams. Organizers fear it will prolong population growth in the area and jeopardize spaces like All Power that serve longtime residents as part of their mission.

“This isn’t necessarily about All Power, it’s about what happens to these places, the neighborhoods in general,” said co-founder Jesse Barnett. “Why it feels so wrong in this case is because we’re one of the only things in the neighborhood that’s only profitable.”

The building’s property manager did not respond to a request for comment.

One of LA’s oldest neighborhoods, West Adams is a working-class and middle-class neighborhood that has grown in popularity over the years, becoming a hotspot for young newcomers and developers. develop. Today there are dozens of new construction projects in different stages of construction. Familiar businesses are disappearing to make room for new ones; Longtime residents are being bid out of their homes.

Three people, the one on the left holding a black cat, standing together smiling on the field

Gage Nguyen, left, Kai Nguyen and Savannah Boyd are among the organizers at All Power Books.

(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

As the COVID-19 pandemic began to tear through LA, these growing socioeconomic disparities were further amplified.

“During the pandemic, and we all found that a lot of things didn’t work as we expected,” said co-host Gage Nguyen.

As the city’s luckiest workers narrow their orbits to home offices, volunteers fan provide mutual aid throughout the city – mainly at the plantations. All of Power’s future organizers were among them, and that’s how they met.

“We just talk to people, and if they say they need something, we do our best to give it to them,” says Barnett. Often that means providing them with food, toiletries or a tent; Sometimes it helped them fill out their stimulus check paperwork.

Barnett, Boyd and others eventually realized that the community needed a permanent space to seek help.

In June 2021, they opened that space, between a barber shop and a market liquor store, and called it All Power Books. It’s currently run by six friends – musicians, activists, graphic designers, non-profit employees – who dedicate their spare time to giving back to the community. (Co-hosts also include Catherine Quach and Andrew Muro.)

The business operates under an anti-capitalist model, Boyd said. Among the items they sell are mugs, sweatshirts and tote bags, along with books by Malcolm X, Angela Davis, Vladimir Lenin and other radical thinkers. The sale shop rent, free goods and services. “We don’t keep a dime of the profits for us.”

In a country that is struggling even in the face of a shortage of baby formula, All Power is a stopper when there is no safety net.

“I understood that it took six people trying to live their own lives, keep the roof over their heads, take on the slush of a city, one of the richest cities in the nation, people who couldn’t give these things to everyone,” Barnett said, recalling a new mother walking into the store worried she couldn’t feed her baby.

“We don’t do this because we like, ‘Oh we feel like everyone would benefit from this,’” added Kai Nguyen, co-organizer. “It’s them saying to us, ‘I can really use help with this, I can really use help with that.’

The third comedian Thomas has lived in the All Power building for eight years. In the short time the store opened, she noticed a positive change in the neighborhood.

“These people here,” she said, pointing to some locals hanging out inside the store, “are a lot calmer than when I first met them.” She often sees them angry and fighting. But now, “they come in here and talk to someone, and these people listen to them,” she said. That made the difference.

Two men, the one on the right is wearing a mask, smiling

Sean Riley, right, and Damien Harripersad, left, a local, at All Power Books.

(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

Damien Harripersad agrees. This 25-year-old local man has been coming to the store almost every day since it opened. “I read, I hang out. It’s so peaceful,” he said one recent afternoon, munching on a piece of chicken he’d bought from the store. A Palestinian flag and a framed image of Che Guevara and the slogan “Destroy the patriarchy” hung nearby.

“It’s the best spot around,” he added.

Harripersad went to the bookstore to buy the necessary things: groceries, diapers for his friend’s baby, and even clothes for himself. On the day he spoke to a Times reporter, he was wearing jeans, a long-sleeve shirt, and a pair of sneakers he’d scored from the free clothes rack.

Damien Jr. Also a regular guest. After a long tiring day at work, Harripersad took his 5-year-old son to the store so he could take a shower and do housework. Other people in his building are also daily visitors.

“If this place closes, it will put a lot of people in a bad state,” he said.

Kai Nguyen there to reassure him that, with or without a store, they will find a way. “Whoever needs help, we’ll help them,” Kai said. “It’s a ethos that we’ve kept all this time.” All Power Books, West Adams ‘radical space,’ faces eviction

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