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Wednesday, July 1,2009

Everybody owns

An eastside Lansing bookstore plans to go from corporate to coop

by Drew Winter

 


The progressive Lansing bookstore Everybody Reads could soon be under new ownership — you.


Owner Scott Harris plans on turning the bookstore, now a limited liability corporation, into a member-owned cooperative. Harris said the recent financial crisis “certainly expedited” the move, but has for a long time wanted to have patrons involved in the operation of the store, including running special projects.


Unlike traditional businesses with owners who invest capital and then hire employees, members own a co-operative business. Co-ops can take a number of different forms, but Harris plans on instituting a system in which members would pay annual dues in exchange for product discounts.

The system may include a board that would be elected by members to manage the store, but unlike corporate shares, members get only one vote each, regardless of their financial contribution. The transition to co-op could take place over the next nine to 12 months, Harris said.


Running the store would primarily fall on volunteer members. Four parttime employees and four volunteers work there. The paid employees would not be laid off in the transition, Harris said.


“It gives us the opportunity to reduce the overhead by having a larger volunteer base and also by giving us a broader base that we can draw potential customers from,” Harris said.


Thirty-two people attended a meeting last Saturday to discuss the future of the store. Those who would like to volunteer can fill out a form available at the bookstore, 2019 E. Michigan Ave.


In addition to volunteers running dayto-day operations, Harris is searching for people to perform a plethora of other activities to make Everybody Reads a community resource center for everything from teaching Spanish, sign language and Braille, to hosting discussion groups, spelling bees and speakers. Harris also hopes to expand the partnership with local activist and support groups, such as anti war, substance abuse, grief counseling and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender organizations.

The transition could make Everybody Reads a nonprofit organization. Harris said he “never opened the bookstore with the intent of making money.”

Nor, he said, does he want the store to continue on a path solely of his choosing, but rather one based on the vision of its members.

“Anything to offer a center that does preach egalitarianism does trump my individual wants and needs,” he said.


To gain ideas about how to run a co-op business, Harris has been speaking with other co-op bookstores. One of those is Rainbow Bookstore in Milwaukee, Wis.


“I think different models can work, it just depends if people are committed to making it work and things are getting done,” Marsha Rummel, a founder and financial coordinator at Rainbow Books, said. “Everybody can learn the things they need to know to run a business, it’s not genetic. It’s hard work and concrete creativity and being in the right spot ... money can’t buy it.”



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