What is a co-op bookstore?

The Montana Cooperative Development Center explains it best: “A cooperative is an organization that is owned and democratically controlled by the people who use its products, supplies or services. Cooperatives are formed to meet the specific objectives of members, and are structured to adapt to member’s changing needs. Working together as a group, members find they can accomplish more collectively than they could individually.”

To the casual shopper, our cooperative will look like any other independent bookstore, with inventory that’s heavily focused and tailored to the community. To the members, it’s a store that they own a piece of and have a voice in. We’re now looking for investors, who can spend as little as $100 to become a full voting member of the cooperative.

One of the things that makes our bookstore cooperative different is that many of our members are published authors, including 2/3 of the board of directors and the general manager.

From our original organizational website

A Cooperative is an internationally recognized form of business that exists in a realm between a publicly owned for-profit and a non-profit.

Like a for-profit business, a Co-op raises capital by selling shares in the business and it can return a dividend to investors when it earns a profit. Like a non-profit, a Co-op is a values-driven organization.

Cooperatives have their own legal form of incorporation that enables access to investment capital but that guarantees member control through democratic decision-making.

Unlike a traditional for-profit corporation that tries to maximize value for its investors, a cooperative seeks to maximize value to all of its stakeholders and community – investors certainly, but also customers, environment, employees, and the future.

For a more complete description of the ideas behind a cooperative, the International Cooperative Alliance’s Blueprint for a Co-operative Decade, January 2013, has a good summary, including the advantages and disadvantages of this business model.