Ypsi Book Co-op meeting tonight at 7:30

Several months ago, our local used bookstore, Cross Street Books, was shut down by the City for various code violations. This led to a spirited conversation here on the site, during which almost everyone, regardless of how they felt about Cross Street Books, seemed to agree that, in order to have a thriving downtown, Ypsilanti needed a functional used bookstore. Toward that end, two primary ideas surfaced. Ben Miller suggested that the community come together to help Sheridan, the owner of Cross Street Books, thin his collection and bring his store back to code, and Richard Murphy suggested that we consider starting a new, cooperatively-owned bookstore to satisfy the currently unmet need. Both ideas were vigorously debated, and, ultimately, it was decided that all interested parties should get together to hash things out in person. And that’s exactly what we’ll be doing tonight (December 2) at the Ypsi Senior Center (1015 North Congress).


[If you know of people who you think may be interested, feel free to point them toward our Facebook event listing.]

As for what will come of the meeting, I’m not sure. I suspect, even if we decide that a cooperative bookstore isn’t feasible, that something good will come of the conversation. With dozens of passionate, bright people in the same room together talking about cooperative business structures, the kinds of businesses we’d like to see downtown, and the prospect of working together to make positive things happen, how could it not?

My sense, having watched things develop online, is that people would like to seriously explore the idea of either a worker-owned cooperative bookstore or a customer-owned cooperative bookstore downtown, so long as the presence of such a business wouldn’t negatively impact either Cross Street Books or the Black Stone African American culture shop, which carries books by black authors. I’m of the opinion that those risks could be overcome, as Sheridan could certainly participate in an endeavor like the one being discussed, and as we could coordinate with Black Stone, which doesn’t sell used books, but I look forward to debating the issue along with everyone else.

As for what I’d like to see us accomplish at the meeting, I think we first we need to decide whether or not there’s sufficient interest in a cooperative (given the issues outlined above). Then, assuming there is, we need to collectively decide what we’d want said entity to look like. (Might there be a press associated with it? Could there be an all-ages performance space? Could there be zines?) And, after that, we need to determine what data we’d need in order to make an informed decision as to whether or not it would make sense to move forward, scout spaces, write a business plan, etc. (I don’t think I’m alone when I say that I’d rather not invest my time in a project unless I know there’s a good likelihood that it would be sustainable. This means that we’ll likely have to do extensive surveying of people in the area, as well as a comprehensive benchmarking of other successful bookstore cooperatives around the country, etc.)

Here’s what I have in mind for the agenda. If you have thoughts, please let me know.


Setting expectations:
While it’s the idea that brought most of us here tonight, a local bookstore co-op may not result from this meeting… There’s a good likelihood that even if it doesn’t, though, something good will come of our being together, talking about the possibility of creating something positive downtown that makes our community stronger, more interesting, and more self-sufficient… With the exception of a short video on cooperative business structures, no formal presentation is planned. This is just going to be an open, free-form conversation… If it makes sense at some point, we can split up into smaller groups and discuss different opportunities… We have until 9:00.

10-seconds each… Share your name and one thing about you pertinent to tonight’s discussion.

Current situation:
Ypsi has Cross Street Books, which is currently out of business pending the correction of several code violations, and Black Stone, which focuses exclusively on non-used books by black authors.

Starting point:
Can we agree that Ypsilanti could benefit from a thriving independent bookstore which seeks to be central to community life? Can we also agree that no one wants to diminish in any way current businesses that we have in our downtown? Can we furthermore agree that there’s a common desire to see more community-owned, and worker-owned business in Ypsilanti?

What are the attributes that you’d like to see in a new downtown business?
Generally speaking, what adjectives come to mind when you imagine a successful, thriving local business that contributes significantly toward the betterment of our community?

If there were to be a new cooperative business downtown, what could it be?
We should probably begin our discussion broadly by exploring the parameters of what this thing we’re discussing could possibly be… While we can’t possibly do everything, it’s probably good to just get all of the ideas out in the open from the outset… Could there be a community press associated with it? Does it even have to be a bookstore? Could this business carry housewares? How about clothing? Could partnerships and alliances be had with the likes of 826 Michigan? Could there be an all-ages venue associated with it? Could there be new books as well as used? Could we partner with Black Stone to mutually highlight stock and leverage audience? Could there be zines? Could we sell the work of local artists? Could we do online sales? What else should be on the table?

What are the business models available to us?
Worker-owned cooperative? Customer-owned cooperative? Traditional for-profit? Non-profit? How are they different? What are the features and benefits of each? (At this point, we can show the video about co-ops.)

What is the minimum viable product?
Let’s begin with what what we might be able to prove the concept with… If it’s simply a bookstore that we want, what could we get by with? How many books? How much space? How many hours a week open? How many staff hours?

Who should we talk with, and what questions should we ask?
We’ve already reached out to Seminary in Chicago, The Big Idea in Pittsburgh, and Rainbow in Madison. Seminary is willing to talk at any time about their experiences. Are there others we should speak with? And what do we want from them?

Next steps:
Survey of local residents as their shopping habits, unmet needs, etc? Business plan? Assessment of possible downtown locations? Public announcement of our status and intention? (How do we report on this meeting?) Fundraising? (Could we sell shares? Could we pre-sell store cards? Could we have weekend books sales at the farmers’ market to raise money and build awareness? Could we explore Kickstarter or other platforms?)

So, if you’d like to come out and join in the conversation, we’d love to have you.

And, if you’d like to bring a bag of chips, or a box of cookies to share, I think that would be pretty cool too.

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  1. D'Real
    Posted December 2, 2014 at 12:14 am | Permalink

    826michigan. 8-2-6, no space, lower case m-i-c-h-i-g-a-n. (Partnering the professional literary and the arts community of Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, and Detroit with local students in need of engaging learning opportunities since 2005.) Read, write, and explore!

    Thanks for bringing us all together (again), Mark Maynard!

  2. anonymous
    Posted December 2, 2014 at 8:18 am | Permalink

    One more thing to think about would be downtown co-working space.

  3. Andre Peltier
    Posted December 2, 2014 at 9:12 am | Permalink

    When Literati and Black Stone opened, Nicola Rooney spent a lot of time discussing the ins and outs of local bookstores with them. It would probably be a good idea to get her on board as she has more experience w/ this stuff than the rest of us.

    I also want to suggest the importance of new books along w/ used. Distribution and community collaboration are easier w/ new books and getting the Library, EMU, WCC, and St. Joe’s to be involved with signings and other events would be really helpful in the long run.

  4. Mr. X
    Posted December 2, 2014 at 9:29 am | Permalink

    I agree, Andre. To be sustainable over the long term, the store would need to stock new books. I don’t know, however, that it absolutely has to do so from the outset. The idea of starting very small appeals to me, and then growing outward, organically from that base.

  5. sebastian rataezyk
    Posted December 2, 2014 at 10:43 am | Permalink

    Perhaps a cart in the new space across from the beer cooler. Or elsewhere.

  6. Lynne
    Posted December 2, 2014 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

    I like the idea of starting with some kind of used books pop up store at the farmer’s market, fwiw. I know someone who has been operating a “bookstore” mostly in pop up spaces in Detroit for the past couple of years. It does seem like a decent place to start especially considering the low overhead and such. Used books are a good place to start too because the inventory is cheaper although personally, when I think of the kind of bookstore I would like in the community, it would be one that sells new books.

  7. Bob
    Posted December 2, 2014 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

    You know, they have these things called public libraries. They’re public spaces filled with books and stuff. They always seem to be struggling for funding and stuff. You could “pop-up” some effort for helping these places that already exist. You guys are honestly a fucking Portlandia sketch sometimes. Pop-up, co-op bookstore. Jesus H. Tap dancing Christ on a fucking pogo stick.

  8. Starry Plum
    Posted December 2, 2014 at 8:29 pm | Permalink

    Good luck at the meeting. I’ve been reading about this and love the idea of a cooperative bookstore, or even just an independent bookstore in Ypsilanti. While I’d love to become involved in the grass roots planning, it’s very hard as I have very young boys and a husband who works late in the evenings. However, here are some ideas and thoughts I’d like to share as a resident of Ypsilanti. Feel free to disregard what doesn’t sound good to people.

    *A combination of new and used books in a welcoming, warm, open space in a downtown building. It should appeal to a wide variety of residents, not just the cool hipster types. Better World Books in Goshen Indiana has a great atmosphere. They are also connected to a record shop so good music is present.

    * A focus on good literature, the joy of reading, and introducing upcoming authors local and from out of the area. Poetry and author readings.

    * A cozy children’s section with a weekly storytime. A place for moms to bottle or breast feed. Changing table in the bathroom. Quality kid lit that isn’t based on TV or movie characters.

    * I like the idea of zines. Some comics too. Stuff you might not be able to get elsewhere.

    * I also like the idea of a workspace/informal cafe with tables and chairs, coffee counter. But not a full on Barnes and Noble type of espresso based cafe.

    *Trying to be all things to all people with all sorts of non book merchandise and all sorts of non literary events isn’t the best way to start off IMHO. If you want to start a bookstore, make that the main focus. Stuff can be added in later once the foundation is established.

    *No dogs. We actually avoid many places in Ypsi because of all the aggressive breed dogs that are popular with residents. I have kids and can’t take a chance.

  9. Posted December 2, 2014 at 9:43 pm | Permalink

    For years, my dream is to see a Free Store open, similar to what activist Abbie Hoffman opened in the 60’s. Wouldn’t it be nice to see all the useable stuff that goes in the garbage every week be able to help people who need it? Wouldn’t it be amazing if we had a warehouse to store useful items that could be used as art supplies? I see so much nice stuff in the trash…. It is a shame. A vendor space/flea market/music mecca of local bands and arts would also be nice.

    Keep up the great work, Ypsi! We are the coolest city in the world, I am convinced. :-) Mark, thanks for this forum and all of your blogs. We want you to stay alive forever, so check out a low fat, high carb, 1/2 raw, mostly vegan organic diet, too. See these YouTube Channels for ways to dramatically improve your health: LifeRegenerator, TannyRaw, FullyRawKristina, OKRaw, HappyHealthyVegan.)

  10. Craig Morgan
    Posted December 2, 2014 at 9:48 pm | Permalink

    Sorry I missed the meeting. I owned Clear Creek Books in Golden, Col. for 5 yrs. We were 65% new, 35% used. It was 2000 sq. ft. We had a membership program and amazing support from the community/ Ultimately we couldn’t sustain due to the economy (2007-2011), and the seasonal nature of Golden but we served as a community focal point.

    We were open to any book clubs and groups like the community garden, Environmental Film Festival, Celtic music club… We did a good business with special order books, teamed with the local college (Col. School of Mines) for events and readings by authors. Ordered books from Baker & Taylor, Ingram and from all major publishers. Anyway, I would be interested in participating.

  11. Posted December 2, 2014 at 9:59 pm | Permalink

    Just returned from the meeting. Lots of great ideas. Lots of positive energy. The mix of people in the room was pretty incredible… from a former bookstore owner to an attorney who focuses on co-op law. Several local authors. I don’t think we could have asked for more. I hope to post about it in the next day or two… Stay tuned.

  12. Posted December 2, 2014 at 10:04 pm | Permalink

    Also, thanks for the diet suggestions. I was a vegan for about five years, followed by about five years of being a vegetarian, so I know the benefits. For what it’s worth, though, I don’t think my diet is all that bad. I don’t typically eat junk. My problem is more a lack of sleep and exercise, I think. I need to make time to do things other than work. I need to jog and mediate. But, yeah, I guess my diet could use some work. I just don’t think it’s the biggest problem, as I don’t drink soda or caffeine, and don’t eat candy and junk.

  13. Posted December 2, 2014 at 10:05 pm | Permalink

    And I love the ideas, everyone. Keep ’em coming.

  14. Erin S
    Posted December 3, 2014 at 9:53 am | Permalink

    Super sorry to have missed the meeting last night, I got caught up late at work. I look forward to your post about the meeting, and continue to be interested participating with this idea :-)

  15. Posted December 3, 2014 at 9:53 am | Permalink

    You guys need a leader.

    I’m pro dog and pro book.

  16. D'Real
    Posted December 3, 2014 at 10:33 am | Permalink

    A “diverse” crowd of readers and deep thinkers attended last night’s meeting, indeed!

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  1. […] who are working to democratize eduction, to all the folks who showed up last night to discuss the possibility of starting a worker-owned bookstore, Ypsi is full of people who aren’t afraid to get involved and make things […]

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