On Thursday, May 13, the American Booksellers Association held an education session on how to start a new co-op bookstore or transition an existing bookstore to a co-op.
- Liza Minno Bloom of Asbury Book Cooperative in Asbury Park, New Jersey (moderator)
- Matt Feinstein, Co-op Clinic Program Manager of U.S. Federation of Worker Cooperatives in Grafton, Massachusetts
- Lisa Swayze of Buffalo Street Books in Ithaca, New York
- Libertie Valance of Firestorm Books and Coffee in Asheville, North Carolina
Here are the top takeaways from the session:
- There are many different motivations for starting a cooperative bookstore. Most include an emphasis on democracy, sharing wealth, and sharing a specific value-based vision and culture.
- Co-op bookstore models still come with the responsibilities of running a small business. It’s important to connect with your community, gain access to capital, manage your assets, and more.
- Before starting or transitioning to a co-op, plan as many systems and structures as you can. Decide how ownership will work within your model, and find long term financial support to sustain your store.
- If you are considering a community-owned co-op, consider alternative co-op membership/ownership options. This can broaden your reach within your community.
- Streamline the decision-making process. Cooperative businesses require board approval for certain decisions, which can be helpful in navigating big decisions, but can also slow down certain processes. Try to empower your management to make reasonable future-based decisions as much as possible.
- Early on, be specific about what your store’s values are. Take a stand and communicate your core beliefs clearly and often with customers, as this sets you apart from other businesses within your community.
- Educate your customers and members on what you do and how they can be involved. Small businesses in general thrive most when deeply embedded within a community so it's important to make this information as accessible as possible
- Connect with other co-ops, support organizations, and federations and associations to get as much information and assistance as you need. Check out these resources: BecomingEmployeeOwned.org; institute.coop; conversion guide; democratic management
- Seek legal advice to be sure you are complying with state requirements. Find legal resources here.
- Continue to create a positive, healthy workplace for staff and members by making space for hard conversations. While cooperative models state their values and beliefs on paper, it’s important to ensure that these values are woven into day-to-day operations as well.