A few days ago, I posted something here about the City having shut down our local used bookstore, Cross Street Books. While acknowledging that there were certainly issues with the peculiar, little store, which has always been both painfully crowded and comically unsafe, I lamented the fact that, without them, our Ypsilanti would be without a bookstore. While a few in the community, like local librarian Ben Miller, came forward to suggest that we band together to help the owner bring his shop back up to code, others offered different solutions, the most interesting of which came from former Ypsilanti City Planner Richard Murphy, who suggested that we instead come together to open a cooperative bookstore.
“I appreciate the can-do spirit of Benjamin Miller here, but, like others, my own experience also makes me pessimistic that the aid would be accepted or effective, sadly,” said Murphy. “If you wanted to start a cooperative bookstore, though, and buy Cross Street Books’ stock (and maybe move it down the street to the much more habitable and currently vacant Cross Street Station space), I’d buy a member share.”
Then, making things a little more interesting, local landlord Stewart Beal joined the conversation, offering a long-term lease at what he described as favorable terms, should a group come together to make such a thing happen. “I would offer 206 W. Michigan in downtown Ypsilanti to such an endeavor for low long term rent,” said Beal. “It is 1,700sf on the 1st floor and 1,700sf in the basement. Just think of how many books you could fit in there!”
The first floor space, which, back in the 90′s, was home to Ypsilanti’s legendary Green Room, has been vacant for several years now, and it makes sense that Beal would want to get someone moved in. Of course Beal’s idea of “low long-term rent” may not be low enough to make such an endeavor a possibility. I think, however, that it’s probably at least worth looking into, assuming people like the idea. And, toward that end, it looks like there may already be a little traction. Just today, community activist and local coop advocate Lisa Bashert came forward to say that, if this were to happen, she’d not only buy a share, but work there. So, as of right now, we’ve already sold four shares, and have one person to work in the store. (Stewart, Murph and Lisa all said that they would buy membership shares, as would I.)
So, where does this leave us? Do folks think that public meeting might be in order? Given a big project that I’m working on at the moment, I’m not in a position to take an active role, but I’d be happy to volunteer a few hours, and help promote the concept, if people think that there’s potential… So, if you have thoughts, please leave a comment or two. I’d be especially interested to hear from folks who might have firsthand knowledge of successful bookstore cooperatives, like Seminary in Chicago, The Big Idea in Pittsburgh, and Rainbow in Madison. I’m curious as to how they’re structured, and what we might be able to learn from them… And, of course, I’d like to know whether you might shop at local book cooperative, or, better yet, contribute your time and energy toward making it happen.