How can cooperative ownership (worker and/or consumer) provide an alternative to traditional economic models?

Host: Roy Karp at Rozzie Bound (Boston, MA) (roy@rozziebound.com) 

Participants: Suzanna, Amanda, Charlie, Kristin Hall, Beth, Nathan, Kristen, Esme, Jamilah, Rebecca, Hannah, Stephanie Heinz

Notes

Introductions – popcorn

Roy – Rozzie Bound, aspiring cooperative in Boston

Jamillah – House of Page, worker-owned bookstore in Georgia ?

Rebecca – Rediscover Books, looking to become a coop

Charlie – Kepler’s, Menlo Park, looking for alternatives to support workers

Suzanna – Oblong Books Rhinbeck, NY grew up in family business, who will run store after me?

Kristen – NPD Books/BookScan, deeply interested in future of books

Amanda – Kepler’s Books, gen mgr., community owned, but looking at next level; how can community own the business

Kristin, Hicklebee’s but joining Kepler’s; interested in alternatives, esp. non-profit models

Dick – VisionWorks distrib in Mass; selling at events/conferences esp. organic gardening/CSA communities; could we create Community Supported Bookstores (CSBs) similar to CSAs for farms

Esme – Firestorm Books and Coffee, 13 yr old coop in Asheville, NC, bookstore@firestorm.coop

Stephanie – Portland, Maine; generally interested in alternative models, coop or non-profit.

Hannah – co-owner of the Book Shop of Beverly Farms, bought store last January

What does it mean to be a cooperative bookstore?

Esme – Firestorm started in 2008, one founding member still with the store, most here about 3 years; have 4 worker owners and are looking to add a 5th.

  • We have found a small cohort of full time works better than larger group working p/t; 
  • Weekly meeting that uses a consensus decision-making
    • Example: decisions about Covid protocols
  • Owner share = $1,000, which you get back if you leave the biz
  • Everyone makes the same wage >> liveable wage paid as salary
  • Non-hierarchical; everyone does what they are passionate about
  • Currently only 4 worker/owners, rotating register shifts and then have additional tasks (events, buying, etc)
  • When someone joins they are an employee for first 6-9 months, still involved in collective decision making other than major financial choices. After that period of time they can choose to petition for ownership, typically exit the collective if either they or rest of collective do not feel like it’s the right fit
  • Questions? Reach out to us at bookstore@firestorm.coop

What draws you to the co-op model?

Roy

  • Wanted the store to be deeply ingrained in the community
  • Sees co-op business style as a way to obtain a better work/life balance
  • Multi-stakeholder cooperative — worker/owners & consumer members
    • Consumer members involved in general direction of business, not involved in day to day decisions and running the business
    • Envisioning 9 member/owner cooperation, 5 members from the workers and 4 elected by consumer owners
    • Equity buy-in ($1000-$2000), but also taking into consideration sweat equity/hours put into creating the space
  • Want to be part of growing movement to create better wages and quality of life, feels like there is a lot of potential in this model and a lot of booksellers interested in exploring the model more
  • Created a survey on cooperative bookselling to create some sort of network/alliance of cooperative bookstores: LINK TO BOOKSELLER SURVEY: https://forms.gle/5oAvhLuPqPqZ7bb9A 
  • Have had two meet-ups so far with others interested in this model

Recruiting New Employees in Co-Operative Model

Dick

  • Started with $25 and many people
  • Pop-up model going to events rather than brick-and-mortar location
  • Monthly meetings with 35-40 people
  • Started with a large group of people, as time went on people who bought into the store took on more major roles with volunteers taking care of other tasks. Moved into non-profit, viewed themselves more as anti-profit
  • After about 10 years Dick stepped down to bring in new leadership
  • Co-operative model can still have hierarchy structures and different salary levels
  • Eventually had 5 member worker collective working sustainably
  • NO BOSSES HERE — book rec for collectively run businesses
  • Worked with other small businesses to offer financial support when needed — ran into a problem when one of the businesses went out of business without being able to pay back loan

Rozzie Bound curated book list — https://bookshop.org/lists/cooperatives-and-the-solidarity-economy

Firestrom rec’s IN GOOD COMPANY — https://firestorm.coop/products/638-in-good-company-toolbox-series.html

Jamilah

  • Attended a cooperative economic conference focused on BIPOC community
  • COLLECTIVE COURAGE — book on cooperative business history in Black community
    • Form of business that has historically been more accessible to communities that traditionally do not have access to the large amount of wealth needed to start business
  • Starting a cooperative collective in Atlanta to work with other businesses — cooperatives are a business model that can create a lot of success in many other industries

Roy

  • Rozzie Bound might be the first multi-stakeholder bookstore. Traditionally have been more popular in food services/grocery stores
  • Tight labor laws in MA re: for profit businesses using volunteers — can differ widely in other states
    • One narrow exception is if you are a board member you can coral community members

What is the benefit for the consumer to buy in?

Dick

  • A lot of people involved right from the start — people who volunteer their time received a discount
  • A lot of debate when people were first starting to get paid for their work. Had to acknowledge that some people needed to be paid to ensure consistency of work — volunteers might cycle out quickly

Amanda

  • Ideological stance of co-operative business
  • Kepler’s has member program where customer buy in to support store w/o owner control over anything

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