Saturday, May 30, 2015

Why Bookstores matter

At the moment, the bookstore I work at is having a slight crisis.

Really, it's been having a series of slight crises for the past couple of years, interspersed with moments of calm; the 90 day notice to leave our original site; the summer of moving 300,000 books to a new location; the build-out of that new location, which basically needed new wiring, heating, floors, drywall, and practically everything else; and then the struggle to get the place back up and running efficiently and to find its place in its new community. My job can be stressful, but we're never lacking for something to do. It also manages to fun despite everything (or perhaps because of everything), on a level I've never known employment do in my forty-odd years.

Me, ringing up a customer. Note the large coffee.
We're actually making money at this point, or at least, making enough money to cover our running costs and make sure we can replace the books on the shelves as they rapidly go out the door. Business is brisk, and we're in a location where new customers are finding us all the time. But some of the costs of moving and getting acclimated to the new location have caught up with us, and the owner realised we needed to come up with $10,000 by the end of June or there was a risk we might have to close our doors.

I personally think we're past that point now. We launched an Indiegogo campaign, and through our supporters there we've raised almost $4,000 in just over a week. Unprompted, we had a group of local children who ran a lemonade stand for an afternoon to fundraise for us, and raised a staggering $1,704. We've been featured throughout the local news, and seen an awful lot of new customers coming through the doors. We're not out of the woods yet, but we're getting there. Things certainly seem a lot more optimistic.

Our heroes.
Simply trying to raise funds has made us aware of something though. Just by being a for-profit business that's asking for money, you notice a certain undercurrent in some quarters. Some people feel that a business should sink or swim on its own merits, and if you're not able to survive on the profits you make, darwinism should kick in and you should go out of business.

Not everyone thinks like this, of course, but the sentiment still comes up. If you're not making money, why should I support you? This got us to thinking. Why should you?

Yes, we're a business. All bookstores are. We have bills to pay, roofs to keep over our heads. But bookstores are much more than that. We sell books, and in many people's eyes, that would be reason enough for us to be around. That's not our sole contribution, however. It might not even be our primary one.

Even in the 18 months we've been in Maplewood, we've become an integral part of the community there. The store is a meeting point, a community hangout, a place for artists and authors and readers to come and meet one another, to chat and exchange ideas. We sat down and realised we're involved in so many local projects, nonprofit foundations, and other things beyond count.

Then we realised, that's not good enough. To make a point, we sat down and counted the things beyond count. Here's a list of what we came up with overnight, and we've probably missed far too many great causes and charities off it:

  • The Foster and Adoptive Care Coalition
  • Stray Rescue and Tenth Life Animal Rescue
  • The 7th Grade Poetry Foundation
  • ALIVE (Alternatives to Living in Violent Environments)
  • The Covering House for survivors of sex trafficking
  • Canterbury Workshop
  • Edgewood Children's Home
  • St. Patrick's Center
  • Dutchtown Better Blocks pop up bookstore 
  • Ferguson Public Library
  • Painting for Peace in Ferguson
  • Black Lives Matter Forum
  • Summer Reading programs - Maplewood, Richmond Heights, Webster Groves, St. Louis Public Library, Parkway
  • Earth dance 
  • Go Local St Louis
  • 1000 Books Campaign
  • Books for Haiti, Better World Books
  • Heroin Awareness and Support Foundation
  • Girls on the Run
  • Our sister organization Second Chapter Center 
  • Webster Groves Adventure Club
  • The Romance Writers of St Louis
  • Sisters in Crime
  • The St Louis Poetry Foundation
  • The St Louis Literary. Consortium
  • The Shakespeare Festival of St. Louis
  • STL 250 cake lovers
  • The Improv Shop
7th Grade Poetry Foundation Weekend
These are just the ones we've been involved in since our move. And of course, on a weekly basis, we host numerous artists, musicians, writers, book clubs, poets, and theater groups.

Harpist Terri Langerak
This is the what we're running the crowdsourcing campaign for. Not to simply pay our bills, or line our pockets, but to be able to keep paying back some of the fantastic causes out there. This is what Amazon and Barnes & Noble can't replace if we closed.

We're not special in this. This is the sort of thing your average independent bookstore does, Constantly, regularly, and without even considering how much it is they're doing.

So support us if you can. Donate to our campaign if you have a few dollars spare. Come by the store, and pick up a book. Come see some of the events we run. And if you're not local to us, do the same thing for your own local indie bookstore.

We'll repay you a thousand times over.