Members of the Ithaca community are raising money to buy Buffalo Street Books, Ithaca’s last independent store for new books, after its owner announced his plans to close the store in March.
Buffalo Street Books employee Bob Proehl proposed the effort to turn the store into a cooperative organization. In a message sent out on Feb. 16, Proehl set a goal of raising $200,000 to buy the bookstore. In his plan, he suggested dividing that cost into $250 shares, estimating 800 shares would need to be purchased in order to keep the store afloat.
As of Feb. 21, community members have already pledged $160,000 toward buying the bookstore, Proehl said. Proehl added that he spent $1,000 of his own money to buy four shares in the cooperative.
“The possibility that Buffalo Street Books will continue to operate is an absolute thrill for me both as a book lover and as a citizen of Ithaca,” said Gary Weisbrott, the store’s current owner. “I can’t imagine living in a town that doesn’t have a bookstore, even if I don’t own it.”
Buffalo Street Bookstore is Ithaca’s last independent bookstore that sells new books, though there are other independent used bookstores in the area.
Prohel said the store will be run like a corporation, with an elected board of trustees and a CEO.
“Like a corporation, shareholders would have a stake and a vote in major decisions regarding the future of the bookstore, and, obviously, would receive a discount on books, he said.”
But even with the influx of local support, Proehl and Weisbrott said that they anticipated challenges to eliminating the store’s estimated $100,000 annual shortfall.
To keep labor costs low, Proehl proposed that volunteers would be able to “buy” a piece of ownership with their labor. These volunteers, referred to as “worker-owners” would own a share of the store after volunteering twenty-five hours of work.
The rest of the deficit may have to be made up with fundraising campaigns and member drives throughout the year, Proehl said. Prohel said that this task would become easier with the large group of owners and volunteers they hope to draw.
“Instead of a single owner and his staff of 10 trying to make this happen, it would be a community of worker and member-owners,” Proehl said.
Proehl also stressed that the community buyout is “not a money making opportunity” and that the bookstore hoped to simply break even.
“We can’t sell you a bestseller for 45 percent off, and that’s not going to change,” Proehel said.
Proehl said he hoped that the Ithaca community would step up to its reputation of supporting a thriving community of local businesses.
“If you are ready for Ithaca to live up to its reputation rather than bask in it, if you are ready to be part of a community that decides for itself what it looks like rather than allowing itself to be shaped by outside forces, then let’s give it a try,” he said.