Co-op explores new era of book buying

The experience of a bookstore is more than just purchasing a book: it’s discovering new ideas and concepts in paperback pages, finding a new interest and browsing endless shelves full of knowledge and creation until you find that one thing you’ve been looking for.

For 55 years, the Seminary Co-op Bookstore, 5751 S. Woodlawn Ave., has brought this experience to the community, but not without struggle along the way. In a time when it’s more convenient to purchase a book online with one single mouse click, independent bookstores like the Co-op are trying to adjust.

Co-op director, Jeff Deutsch, recently wrote a letter as a call to action to help support the Co-op. In the letter, Deutsch explains that despite an increase of sales, they still have a six-figure operating gap that can only be solved one way: buying more books.

“[The message] is essentially the same message that I have been offering for years, but because this letter had legs for whatever reason, some people are hearing it for the first time, but it’s not new and it’s not new of this decade,” he said. “There’s no disaster and there’s no risk of us going out of business any time in the immediate future, but it’s not sustainable if we don’t have people who love the store buying from us.”

The Seminary Co-op currently has over 50,000 members, but Deutsch said that in his first year as director in 2014, fewer than 10,000 members bought a book from them. Deutsch is aware of the convenience of online shopping, which is why the Co-op’s website is getting a much needed upgrade this summer.

The website will be a complete overhaul and will give readers the option to purchase books online from the store’s regular inventory. In this way, people from all over the world can support the Co-op, not just those who have the convenience of walking to the store.

“Since the letter went out I have heard from Australia, South Africa, Germany, London and all over the United States that people want to buy from us,” Deutsch said.

People love the mission of the Co-op and Deutsch said that just because they are tight on money right now, that mission is not going to change.

“I look at every single book that sells and I intentionally bring books back that I know would be a bad business decision, but we would not be the Co-op that we are if we didn’t have that book on the shelf,” he said.

Some of those books Deutsch takes chances on are academic and scholarly presses. He said that particularly University presses are struggling to find that audience of readers who will support their hard work, but that the Co-op is one of the few bookstores that will always feature that kind of work.

“This is about bringing books both obscure and popular to the readers that will appreciate them and giving authors a voice and enhancing the community by having that place of discovery,” Deutsch said.

A recent discovery Deutsch had upon was the Co-op acquiring the library of two deceased Co-op members, Devereaux Bowly and Patrick Keleher, as a gift to the store.

“I literally went book by book through both of their libraries and it was the most intimate experience, because as any book collector knows, how you build your library and the legacy of that library that you leave is so personal,” he said.

Deutsch said he couldn’t put a price tag on these books, so he decided to let the customers choose. For the entire month of June, customers can purchase books from these libraries and decide for themselves what they think the book is worth, with all proceeds going back to the Co-op.

This sort of thing is the exact spirit of the Co-op and why such a community landmark needs to keep thriving. Deutsch said they wouldn’t be here without the support of the locals.

“The Hyde Park community is one of the few communities in the world that could support a book store like this,” he said. “One of the things that I know for sure is we reflect the community…we reflect Hyde Park, but what Jack Cella did, I genuinely believe created Hyde Park too, not just reflecting but creating the community and if we were to go away, that would be lost.”


[Via: Hyde Park Herald]

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