The Workers' Paradise A Discussion of Workers Cooperatives and Building the New Economy

October 25, 2010

Please Help Food For Thought Book Collective

Filed under: Uncategorized — John McNamara @ 4:04 pm

The following letter was sent out today. Please help however you can. In this month of co-operative solidarity, we need to show it with more than a Facebook wall post. Please send whatever amount that you can.

John

Dear friends,

We are writing to you today to share an important update about what is happening with us because you are part of the community that has always made our collective a special place.  We are writing you today because that is what friends do when they need help: they turn to their friends first and ask for it.  We want you to know that we need your help now and that we are thankful for all the support that you have given to us in the past.

As many of you know, Food For Thought Books is a not-for-profit workers’ collective bookstore, the only one of its kind in all of Western Massachusetts.  We are also one of the last collective bookstores in the country today. During the thirty plus years that we have been part of the Amherst community, we have prided ourselves in being able to stay true to our mission of disseminating radical & progressive media in all its various forms as well as providing a space where voices and ideas silenced and ignored by the mainstream media can be heard, seen, supported and realized. As you can imagine, it has been no small task, in this capitalist world, to try and run a business that treats its workers fairly and that turns whatever profits it makes back over to the community.

Over the years, alongside our handpicked books and media, we have been able to offer thousands of events, author readings, workshops, reading groups, community resources, fundraising support, and much more – all for free.  It might surprise you to know that we have never received funding, through grants or other sources, to do this work.

The truth is that our bookstore has, for quite some time, relied on the generous support of professors at the local universities & colleges who order textbooks for their classes here. Our textbook business made for a reliable economic cycle and we have been most grateful for it. It allowed us to expand our staff and our store so that we could offer you an even wider diversity of interesting new books and media, not to mention a greatly expanded series of innovative events & programs.

We have been especially grateful for this support during the past few years when we, along with bookstores nationwide, saw an increasingly severe decline in trade book sales (trade books are “regular” books, as opposed to textbooks). Sadly, many independent bookstores have had to close across the country because of this decline. We have even seen this here in Amherst, once home to half a dozen bookstores – now there are just a few left. A variety of factors contributed to this nationwide decline: big boxes, Amazon, the rise of e-books being some of the more significant. Still, the textbook business allowed us to hang in and weather these economic pressures… that is, until now

This past academic semester we saw a precipitous drop in textbook sales, much more than anyone anticipated, despite having been able to discern many of the contributing factors.

And so, we have now found ourselves facing two great challenges:

1) Repay the sudden and extreme debt this loss in textbook sales incurred and,

2)  Create a new economic model that will sustain us into the future.

While these challenges are profound we know for certain we can rise to them.  Recenlty, we have begun to discuss what is happening with community members and we feel blessed to see how much our work and Food for Thought, as a community institution, is valued.  We see clearly what a tremendous and powerful resource we have in you. We mean that literally, because that’s what a real and vital community is made up of: people like you.  We know we can make it with your support!  So, we are asking for your help – both right now and in the days to come.

Right now, we need your help in order to remain open and continue our relationships with publishers.   We are working within the collective, and with a newly-formed “Friends of Food for Thought” group, to support and sustain Food For Thought Books as the community space and radical bookstore it has always been.  Here are some ways you can help:

Donate:

Help us reach our goal of keeping Food for Thought around for another 30 years by donating whatever amount you feel most comfortable with.  When we started off in 1976, we had “community contributors” who warmly supported us by making a $1,000.00 contribution; will you carry on this legacy?  If a $1,000.00 is too much, will you consider $500, $100, or $50?

Donations can be sent directly to:

Food For Thought Books

106 N. Pleasant St.

Amherst MA 01002

Checks should be made payable to Food For Thought Books.

Join the Friends of Food for Thought:

Friends of Food For Thought are supporting us in reaching our immediate needs and helping us create infrastructure to continue our work. They are also supporting us in fundraising- Do you want to plan or host a house party, special event at our store or something that you design?   If you want to talk to us more about this or any of the Friends of Food for Thought committees please feel free to contact tk- tk@foodforthoughtbooks.com.

Buy Books! Of course, you can always help us out by simply buying books. You can stop by, because we’d always like to see you and there’s always new books coming in that we’re sure you’d like to see as well. You can also order books online, day or night, in the comfort of your own home, at our nifty website: http://www.foodforthoughtbooks.com/

We know that this all may bring up many questions for you. Please ask them! As always, we are happy to answer any inquiries you may have.  We look forward to our collective future, all of us, with high hopes. Please help us make it a good and bountiful one!

In peace and solidarity,

Food For Thought Books Collective

Javiera, Matthew, Mitch, REC, and tk


1 Comment »

  1. The subject of Food For Thought co-op’s predicament makes me sad I’m in no position to help financially. I’ll try to send out some alerts that might generate some help. Thanks for the alert, John.
    This kind of crisis seems like a good reminder that economic sustainability is as real and necessary as social and environmental realities. Personally, I’ve been interested in the concept of accounting as the foundation of much of the number crunching and concepts in economics. Cobb et al’s paper on “GDP Up, America Down?” in the Atlantic from 1995 and cited in E Mag 1999, make a good foundation on the subject. A business, of course, also has to deal with other issues like marketing or advertising.

    Another co-op in an economically disadvantaged area, the East New York Food Co-op, also seems to have gone under. I’ve been tracking it from a distance since it’s founding, covered in the NY Times:

    The East New York Food Co-op, scheduled to open tomorrow, in time to supply Thanksgiving shoppers, will be a healthful addition to an area with high rates of obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure, and where French fries are easier to find than ripe tomatoes.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/19/nyregion/19market.html

    Off hand, I would imagine keeping the benefits clear by easy to read literature, and making regular contacts at events and associations like Churches and advocacy groups would be important bases there.

    On the other hand, the Park Slope Food Co-op has done extremely well since it was founded in the 1970s, and has even had explosions of membership growth since 2000. I was a member for years, and was happy to find the PSFC covered in Fortune recenlty,

    “Traditional supermarkets should pay attention, and not just to those stellar financials. Under the coop model, the owner and the consumer are one in the same. “A coop has to make money but also has to have the best interest of its owners, who are also its shoppers, at heart,” says Robynn Shrader, CEO of the National Cooperative Grocer’s Association (NCGA).”

    http://money.cnn.com/2010/09/16/news/companies/grocery_coop_Brooklyn.fortune/index.htm

    William Greider also covers the stresses experienced by an employee-owned business, and their need to discharge some worker owners, in his 2003 book, The Soul of Capitalism.

    The Rainbow Grocery in San Francisco has an interesting history that highlights their own basis in spirituality and service, in contrast to political opposition, and the strengths they see in that orientation.
    I wish the FFT co-op the best in their efforts to resolve this crisis.

    Comment by Mark Rego-Monteiro — November 3, 2010 @ 12:41 pm

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