As friends, associates, and the occasional reader of my blog series here know, I’ve become deeply involved in the affairs of the People’s Co-op Bookstore on Commercial Drive in Vancouver.
Today, the store is at a crossroads. Having operated for two years without a nickel in its pocket, the People’s Co-op desperately needs some cash, and has launched a drive to raise about $30,000, to pay off some old debt, bring some new books into the store, and spruce the place up a bit.
About a third of that is needed to pay off some debts to suppliers — something that’s preventing the Co-op from getting books in from a few key suppliers. This is money the store needs RIGHT AWAY, before the end of June.
Another third or so is needed to bring more titles into the store. While the Co-op’s addition of used books has given it a much deeper inventory, the shortage of cheese in the cupboard makes it very, very hard to bring in the new titles that are a bookshop’s bread and butter. The bookstore needs that inventory to survive: it has to sell a certain number of books to pay rent and salaries, and it can’t sell what it can’t buy.
The Co-op also needs to put a little money into renovations, fixtures, and a computer / website upgrade.
Since Co-op members rejected a plan to shutter the shop in March 2010, huge changes have been introduced. The reforms — including embracing the “Powell’s model”, adding used books to the inventory — have reduced the store’s operating deficit from about $40k a year, to around $10k — less than $1,000 a month. That’s good, but the number has to be zero. And the only way to accomplish that goal is to increase the number of books we are selling: not by much, maybe a few thousand bucks’ worth per month. But we can’t do that unless we can buy the books in the first place.
The store’s staff, volunteers, and board members have reached the limits of what they can accomplish without the benefit of a budget to work with. The time has come to give the People’s Co-op Bookstore and its workers the operating capital they need to work with.
How can you help?
1. By joining the Co-op. It costs $25 to become a shareholder in the Co-op, and that gets you a 10 percent discount for one year. If you’re already a Co-op member, by renewing your membership.
2. By making a donation of any size to the Co-op. A $250 donation earns you a 10 percent lifetime discount at the Co-op — and gets us substantially closer to our fundraising goals.
3. By making the People’s Co-op Bookstore (1391 Commercial Drive, three blocks north of 1st Avenue) one of the regular stops on your shopping / flaneuring expeditions. If you haven’t visited the Co-op in a while, you’ll be amazed by the transformation wrought over the last few years.
4. By donating your time & skills to the Co-op. Throughout its 69-year history the People’s Co-op has relied on volunteers to help out at events, to sort used book donations, and to help out in the store & even work occasional store shifts. That probably won’t ever change.
5. By donating your used books. Donations have allowed the store to build up its stock — store inventory is probably deeper than it has been at any time in its history — and used book sales are now paying around half the rent.
6. By sharing this appeal with your friends.
(In late March, a Mystery Donor stepped forward and pledged to match every $2 donated with $1 of their own — so your $25 = $37.50, $100 = $150, $250 = $325, &c.)
From time to time throughout its history, the People’s Co-op Bookstore has had to turn to its members and supporters to see it through crises. It’s been a couple of decades since the last appeal. This is one of those times. It’s been pretty clear to me, from my volunteering around & in the bookstore, that there is an enormous reservoir of support for the Co-op. I hope we can turn some of that support into donations that are now needed to keep the our bookstore open.
Since last fall’s Co-op AGM, a fundraising committee led by Brian Campbell has quietly raised more than $8k towards our goal. That’s a great start, but we’ve got a ways to go still. I hope you’ll be able to give something to keep Vancouver’s — and surely one of Canada’s? — oldest bookstore going strong.
UPDATE: As of June 1, the Co-op has raised about one-third of the goal — the part it needed before June 30 to keep the doors open over summer, the slowest period of the year — and is hiring a new manager. But the donations and memberships are slowing down, and the store still needs that next $10k to put some new books on the shelves for the fall. The People’s Co-op isn’t entirely out of the woods yet. Please drop in at the Co-op and join, renew, donate, browse, and maybe take your new discount for a spin.