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Buffalo Street Books Calls Upon Community Owners to Help the Struggling Store

Key Points:

  • Buffalo Street Books, located on Buffalo Street’s 100 block, is $100,000 in debt
  • It is co-owned by more than 700 people, who met to discuss ideas to keep the store open

Buffalo Street Books finds itself in a situation now that it was also in six years ago – on the verge of having to close up shop.

Community owners started to fill the store for an emergency meeting

“First, we need to raise money, quickly. Second, we need to consider the steps we can take to make the store sustainable,” reads the store’s statement to its community owners. “Those steps will involve asking owners to be more directly involved in the store.”

Around 100 community owners flocked to an emergency meeting on October 12, crammed into a small space where some had to stand.

Talking Numbers

The main task was to gather ideas on how to come out of a financial hole of around $100,000.

Executive Board President Rob Vanderlan focused on measures that would recuperate money, including the possibility of downsizing the store’s size to save on rent.

“That’s something our landlord is totally willing to do. She’s willing to negotiate a transitional rent that would be much smaller,” he said.

That would save about $12,000 per year.

Getting owners more involved

Buffalo Street Books is a cooperative, meaning it is co-owned by members that buy a $250 share for the ability to vote at owner’s meetings.

Owners discuss their ideas to help keep the store funded

Since 2011, the store has had issues getting its community owners involved past that monetary contribution.

“The promise then was that we would create a cooperatively owned and operated bookstore,” Vanderlan said. “That owners would be actively involved in making sure the bookstore persisted. We never really did that.”

At the meeting, owners were asked to fill out a commitment form. Owners could pledge  monetary gifts and available hours to volunteer to help run the store.

The store’s executive board will gauge responses from those forms to create a concrete plan, which could come as early as next week.

Barbara Need, who lives in Cortland, has been an owner since 2011. Need said she believes her contribution could be her time.

Barbara Need thumbs through a comic book

“I just decided that I hadn’t been particularly involved,” Need said. “I volunteer at the Friends of the Library book sale, and if I come down to Ithaca for that or for church or something, then I could just make it a long day.”

Targeting a younger demographic

Most in attendance were older adults. Vanderlan said they need to bring in younger owners.

“In the last two years we’ve added almost 100 owners,” Vanderlan said. “And a good percentage of those are much younger. But i think that’s something we have to target, so one of the reasons we implemented an installment plan to ownership was to make it accessible to people that just couldn’t write a check for $250.”

Ithaca College senior Rachel Balzano plans to purchase an owner’s share once she can save up the money.

“There’s something so special about having this down in the community, that it needs to be here for future generations to come,” Balzano said. “I mean, I’ve loved having it here in my four years at I.C. and I want future students to have that as well.”

Vanderlan holds onto hope that the community can rally again.

“Part of why tonight was so great was just seeing how many people buffalo street books matters to. It sort of re-inspires you to make sure that it doesn’t go away.”

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