The Book Worm in Powder Springs, Ga., Considers Co-Op
Seeking to retire, Susan Smelser has started the process of taking the Book Worm Bookstore in Powder Springs, Ga., to a cooperative business model. Smelser, who has owned and operated the Book Worm since founding it in 2005, has given herself a 60-day deadline to see whether the switch to a cooperative model would be viable.
Smelser stressed that the decision doesn't come from the store being in dire straits. Rather, she explained that her husband has been retired for about a year and she is ready to move on from the store and join him. At the same time, she wants the Book Worm to continue in Powder Springs and there seemed no better way than a community-owned cooperative.
"We are debt free, the store is doing fine," said Smelser, who owns the store's building. "We are profitable. We don't have anything but our monthly payments."
Smelser held the first co-op meeting on March 6, which featured a quick overview of the situation and a q&a session with customers and community members. Since then Smelser has held two more meetings and has another one scheduled for this Sunday. So far, she said, she's had "tremendous support" at the meetings and the vast majority of people who came to each of the meetings say they are interested in becoming either sustaining members or shareholders.
Under current plans, community members, customers and friends of the store can become full voting members of the cooperative for $100. They will receive a common share of the business and a 5% discount on all purchases at the store. Those who make investments of $1,000 can become shareholders, who will receive one preferred share and a slice of the store's dividends, in addition to the common share and the discount. And those who invest even higher amounts can receive additional benefits, including more shares, higher discounts and more. Smelser added that she plans to create 200 shares.
Smelser has yet to take any money from prospective shareholders or begin any of the legal work need to create the cooperative. That process will begin around the end of April/beginning of May, if Smelser believes that the necessary community support is there. Should that process begin, there will be a steering committee to guide things that will eventually hand over control to the board of directors. The board will buy Smelser out, while leaving a sizable amount of money in the pot for the store to use as operating expenses, and pay rent to her each month, unless the co-op decides to buy the building.
She added that even after the payout, she plans to be a part of the store. "I would stay on to consult and train. I just don't want to be the full-time person."
As for day-to-day operations, there will be paid store employees, with dividends going to shareholders, and there are plans for plenty of volunteer work. While not mandatory, Smelser hopes that around 75% of members will spend some time volunteering, and some examples of volunteer activities include running the store's social media, setting up for events, and creating seasonal decorations and displays in store.
Smelser founded the Book Worm as an online store, but it did so well that in 2005 she opened a bricks-and-mortar location. The store sells mainly used, rare and out-of-print books, along with a smaller selection of new titles and bestsellers.
"No one wants to see the store close," Smelser said. "But I don't want to wait any longer." --Alex Mutter