More than two dozen students, faculty, and local residents stood in protest and recited poetry Monday afternoon to call on Penn to save the Penn Book Center, which announced its closure two weeks ago after nearly 60 years on campus.
At noon, people gathered in front of the Button for the first day of the week-long protest to urge Penn to help develop a business model to sustain the bookstore. While several people spoke about the unique and irreplaceable collection of literature at the Penn Book Center, which is located near 34th and Sansom streets, other protestors stood near College Green, holding signs with slogans such as "Books not bros, save PBC" and "Amazon Kills, read locally."
The protestors then marched in a group to the Penn Book Center, chanting, “What do we want? Penn Book Center! When do we want it? Now and forever!”
Third-year English Ph.D. candidate and graduate student coordinator Nick Millman said the poetry recitations set the rhythm for the protests.
“If you go to any protest, it’s all about the rhythm; it’s all about how you say things; it’s poetic and we’re trying to bring that character out and to say we’re not just selling old, dusty textbooks. There’s a living sort of form of poetry that we are trying to put on display,” Millman said.
English professor Chi-ming Yang organized the protests after the Penn Book Center announced on April 8 that it will close at the end of May. Penn Book Center co-owner Ashley Montague, who graduated from Penn in 1999 with a Ph.D. in English, said the bookstore was closing because it did not generate enough revenue to cover the rent.
Yang also started a Change.org petition on April 10 calling on Penn to set up meetings with the Penn Book Center so that they could find a business solution to sustain the bookstore. As of April 23, the petition has garnered more than 4,300 signatures.
Local poet Raena Shirali, who attended the protest on Monday along with the students and faculty, said the Penn Book Center has the best poetry collection in the city.
"Penn Book Center is one of very few bookstores in Philly that asked me to carry my book, and went out of their way to accommodate and make me feel comfortable as a new local author when I very first moved here," Shirali said. Her book, "GILT," is carried at the Penn Book Center.
College sophomore Avneet Randhawa said the turnout at the demonstrations helps the Penn humanities faculty negotiate with the administration for an economic partnership between Penn and the local bookstore.
“[The Penn Book Center] is not just for us,” Randhawa said. “It’s for Philadelphia, and when we shut down a place that is for Philadelphians, we are actively gentrifying even more that we have gentrified the area around University City.”
"If this place closes down, then that’s just another symbol and literal marker that Penn is encroaching on all of Philadelphia’s local spaces," she added.
Millman said the petition signed by thousands, the upcoming protests, and “remarkable amount of press and attention” helps add pressure on Penn administrators and encourages them to sit down with the Penn Book Center owners.
Yang said she encourages everyone, especially those who signed the petition, to stand in protest, stop by in between classes, and meet the bookstore owners.
“If I wanted to get Starbucks, a sweatshirt, or a water bottle I would go to the Penn Bookstore,” Randhawa said, “but if I want to read Dostoevsky, if I want to read Hannah Arendt, if I want to read Karl Marx, I would go to the Penn Book Center, but again I would not have the ability to do this anymore if it closes.”
"With the pre-professional school that Penn can tend to be, it is all the more important that we have this kind of space for intellectual reflection and curiosity, something beyond purely utilitarian studies like business and medicine," second-year French and Francophone Studies Ph.D. candidate Marcus Dominick said.
Fourth-year English Ph.D. candidate Davy Knittle said he will read poetry at the protest on Tuesday and will bring his Urban Studies 277 students to the protest during class time.
Penn administrators have had internal conversations about the Penn Book Center's closure, Yang said. After Yang sent members of the administration a copy of the petition on April 12, Executive Vice President Craig Carnaroli replied back to Yang on April 16 saying that Penn would have an administrative meeting later that week to gather facts.
"They said they value the role the store plays in the life of the campus and that they would be meeting this week internally to review this matter and they would get back in touch with us, so there has been an initial response," Yang said.
Carnaroli said in an email to The Daily Pennsylvanian on April 21 that he had no further comment at the time.