How can indie bookstores get the kind of public support that libraries, etc. get to alleviate the financial burdens?

Host: Tanya Mills 

Participants: Eileen McGervey, Diana Montano, Robert Martin, Joan Griffin McCabe, Veronica Liu, Andy Hunter (John Mutter, Pam Grange, Kevin Smokler, Ethan Nosowsky, Aziza stopped by)


  • Are there “grants” that bookstores can apply for that are similar to the kind of support themselves like libraries?
  • Asking Veronica: wondering about founding of Word Up (in Manhattan), existing as a co-op + non-profit (although legally you need to be a for-profit to be a co-op)
    • Started as a week-long endeavor 10 years ago that was buoyed by volunteers in the neighborhood, plus crowdfunding to eventually open 8 years ago in its current space; 
    • In order to do all the events, spaces, etc. was given advice that we should apply as a “literature access” nonprofit, which exists as a program of the nonprofit; had to work with the board to get approval – had to build the nonprofit board to support that program to give access to people who wanted books/reading in the area
    • Library nearby? Yes, but closed when we opened, and the idea of ownership of books, we wanted to encourage that with our neighbors – although we have a relationship with them and other orgs in the area
    • Created a “CSB” program (like a CSA – pay up front, get wooden nickels and a tote, and come take books and use the nickels) + other member programs
    • Spending time grant-writing – first few were program grants (breakfast with books, kids, etc.) – small ones from local hospital supporting neighborhood, neighborhood committee – now have City Council funding, Manhattan Borough President’s Office, NY Council on the Arts, foundation fundings
  • Diana: how do you work with bookstores/sellers and libraries?
    • Manage the Book Club program at a radio program, which has own just from a part of the radio show to an online community that designs events and other programs for readers
    • Want to work more with bookstores in a way that is mutually beneficial, but doesn’t make bookstores feel like they are “competing” with each other – or our relationship with libraries!
  • Eileen: what is it about library relationships that you’re interested in?
    • Want to do more community outreach
    • But we’re also in an area where the rent is beginning to outpace the area, so we’re paying more for rent than we have in the past
    • We’d like get funding to support a Teen Book events (800-1000 attendees) but we need money to bring authors to the event or subsidize book costs
    • Eileen in chat: “And to be able to have authors visit schools so kids can hear from them directly. Sometimes there’s an minimum number of books that must be purchased for author to attend. Would be great to be able to provide those.”
  • Robert: fruitful way of thinking about non-profit/for-profit bookstore/seller model
    • “Assist in the distribution of books to the general public” can be a way that non-profit bookstores
    • Wondering why bookstores aren’t taking advantage of those tax codes as much
    • Disseminate resources that are available, keep tabs on the resources – and libraries/non-profit relationships is something I’m really interested in 
  • Joan: was interested in joining a children’s bookstore so joined ABA
    • Background in politics in NYC; was a council member
    • Work with libraries, access to reading, “community worker” and went from politics to education, ended as a reading specialist – best part of my day is connecting kids with books!
    • Want to open a place that has a library feeling or a bookstore feeling that if someone goes into the space, they feel like there’s something meaningful they can take away
    • Want to find a teacher to be more involved in support literacy efforts beyond the classroom
    • Worked with orgs as a “S” corporation – don’t know too much about it but it lets organizations be more flexible with their spending
  • Andy: Created to provide add’t financial resources for independent bookstores who can’t start a big online bookstore, help them compete
    • Chairman of grant writer, work for publisher as well
    • I need bookstores! My dream would be that independent bookstores sell the same % of the share of online sales as the big market retailers – want to change customer habits to buying from bookstores at all times instead of online
    • Andy in chat: “The biggest difference between C and S corporations is taxes. C corporations pay tax on their income, plus you pay tax on whatever income you receive as an owner or employee. An S corporation doesn’t pay tax. Instead, you and the other owners report the company revenue as personal income… B corps are like a C Corp, but put public good over profits, and judge success against their mission, not just growth or profit alone.”
  • WHERE do you find grants?
    • Listings that you can get sent to you for a fee (don’t do anymore), Foundation Center, on arts email newsletters that post grants and opportunities
    • Have funded things like events, or the mural that’s in/on our store
  • Tanya: Bookstores could think about sponsorships (like Adopt-a-Highway programs)
    • Veronica: Why don’t more bookstores do something like this, or embrace nonprofit?
      • Some might be pride, or feeling like being a nonprofit isn’t as good of a ‘look’ (“We don’t get handouts like nonprofits” is a sentiment I’ve seen in posting sites). But, we have also found solutions to some longstanding bookstore issues through leveraging what we can do as a nonprofit, applying for targeted grants in addition to continuing to sell books.

Another issue generally could be that the literary nonprofit and for-profit sides of the lit field don’t always recognize that they could unite to strengthen the field as a whole. Also for some of the things that nonprofits do, you don’t actually have to be a nonprofit, and some of those practices are helpful to have in place anyway. Various ways people get things done (at record stores, at hardware stores, etc) even while being/thinking like a nonprofit.

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