April 24, 2011

Ithacans Swarm to Buffalo Street Books’ Reopening

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Hoping to write a fairy-tale ending, Buffalo Street Books, Tompkins County’s last general-subject independent store for new books, reopened Saturday after closing for six weeks.

Gary Weissbrot ’71, former owner of Buffalo Street Books and now the General Manager of Buffalo Street Books Cooperative, said he was amazed by the turnout for Saturday’s daylong gala reopening as cooperative shareholders joined casual browsers to view the revamped store.

“We were mobbed — it seemed as if people had gone six weeks without buying any books,” he said, adding that sales were about four times the volume of a normal Saturday.

After Weissbrot announced in February that Buffalo Street Books would close, Bob Proehl, the former marketing coordinator for Buffalo Street Books and current director of operations for the cooperative, led a campaign to revive the store under a model of cooperative shareholders.

Proehl said that the cooperative has a board of directors and New York State incorporation papers in place to be able to formally purchase the store from Weissbrot. The cooperative is currently finalizing sale contracts for the store inventory and the cooperative’s bylaws, he said.

Nearly 500 people have pledged to become shareholders in the cooperative, with an additional 10 people added during the daylong opening, according to Proehl. Nearly 80 percent of pledges — $250,000 out of $300,000 — have been collected so far, Proehl said.

Part of the $250,000 goes toward buying the store from Weissbrot, part toward restocking and restaffing the store and part toward “operational cushion — money to have around in case we get off to a rough start,” Proehl said.

Weissbrot expressed optimism that, despite the state of the book selling industry, the new cooperative could succeed.

“There’s always been an amazingly loyal customer base, but it will be different when it’s a loyal owner base,” Weissbrot said. “We now have a few hundred proselytizers and that will make all the difference in the world when it comes to the fiscal health of this store.”

Prof. J. Robert Lennon, English, said he was glad to see the store reopen.

“I think it’s great. I bought a bunch of books here today. It was good to see everybody working again,” Lennon said.

The book cooperative will prepare for its schedule of author events and readings, which will begin next Thursday, according to Proehl.

“It was a slap upside the head when [customers] learned the last store was closing and because of that recognition, the store will thrive,” Weissbrot said.

Original Author: Emily Coon