By Ned Hayes
In February, the Washington Post reviewed the state of the American bookstore and discovered two key, distinguishing characteristics that are keeping bookstores afloat. “How do indie bookstores compete with Amazon?” said the Post’s headline. “Personality — and a sense of community.”
Orca Books has been a bookstore with personality for 27 years, and now in order to continue to thrive, the store is fully embracing community. Orca Books is moving from a privately owned store to a community cooperative. Community supporters will be able to take partial ownership of the bookstore as paid members of the new Orca Books cooperative.
Cooperative ownership for bookstores is a well-proven model. Nationally known bookstores that have gone to cooperative community ownership include Buffalo Street Books in Ithaca, New York and House of Books in Billings, Montana, Bluestockings in New York City and of course the Northwest’s own Left Bank Books in Seattle. “It seems like community ownership and involvement is the answer for a lot of bookstores facing competition with industry giants,” explained store staffer Devin Anderson.
Past Orca Books owner Linda Berensten will become a member of the cooperative, along with existing staff members. “My wish is for Orca to continue, and for me to still be a part of it,” said Berensten. “But I’m looking forward to having more time to read, travel and be a grandma.”
Orca’s patrons have already stepped up to support the new co-op model. “People have been so supportive,” said Anderson. “It is very heartwarming to see how happy people are to support us, and how excited they are to become member-owners of one of their favorite places.”
Funds raised during the formation of the cooperative will be used to pay off debt, create operating capital and transfer the bookstore and all of its books from the current owner to the cooperative. Member benefits that will exist will include daily discounts, access to members-only sales and voting rights. Members may also participate in book selection and event creation at the bookstore. There will be seats available on the board as well, for members to be directly involved and represented in decision making.
“We hope that with more events, more staff, more sideline items like journals and art supplies, and more books, we’ll see the bookstore financially stabilize and grow. We want Orca Books to stay open and help keep Olympia reading for many years to come,” said Anderson.
Orca Books Cooperative
10 a.m. – 8 p.m. Monday-Saturday;
10 a.m. – 6 p.m. Sundays
509 Fourth Ave. E, Olympia