If you pass by 2122 E. Locust St. you may notice that the old People’s Books has a shiny new look and that the front canopy now bears the name People’s Books Cooperative. On July 31, a group of activists, book lovers and students incorporated People’s Books as a consumer co-op. With former owner Chris Chiu’s blessings, knowledge and financial support, the co-op officially took over the bookstore September 1. Chiu has consigned an inventory valued at more than $150,000 to the new cooperative. Last spring, owner Chiu announced that he was planning to close the bookstore after 30 years to pursue other activities. When UWM students Jim Draege and Ryan Rothgery heard the news they were deeply saddened, and wanted to do something to keep the store alive. Chiu provided Draeger and Rothgery with his customer mailing list and in short order there were enthusiastic people who wanted to be part of the new cooperative. The co-op already has 31 members. The store has been newly painted since it has morphed into a cooperative. The member volunteers have painted the walls in beige, yellow and white, and the landlord has installed new storefront windows. In the painting process, some books were reclassified, and new stock was added. There are healthy-sized sections of books in Women’s Studies, Men’s/Gender Sexuality, Native American, Urban Studies, History, Politics, Eastern Religion, Western Religion, and African American Studies, among others. People’s Books Cooperative stocks over 18,000 books on two floors. The bookstore features a section of books relating to current events, and has a children’s book section and reading corner. The co-op will have poetry readings, present panel discussions and also has an active book club. Eva Baex, Dennis Casper, Chris Christie, Jim Draeger, Sherri Jones, Suzy Orth, John Revord and Jenny Vann are on the current board of directors. Brian Rothergy and Carl Hedman are serving as members of the coordinating committee, along with the seven board members. Hedman, a retired UWM philosophy professor and a founding board member of the Riverwest Co-op, was called upon to provide guidance about how to start and run a cooperative. Hedman said People’s Books Reborn that part of any co-op’s mission is to help other co-ops into existence, and he was delighted to be a part of helping to create the new bookstore. He said that bringing a co-op into existence is both a challenge and a miracle, and that he loves to celebrate any occasion for cooperation. “There are almost no structures left that encourage people to cooperate, to go beyond narrow self-interest. Churches used to be like that,” Hedman said. Hedman said he disagrees with both Marxists and capitalists. He said that he does not believe that Marxism provides real alternatives to capitalism and that capitalism itself encourages greed. “We need to create new institutions,” he said. Hedman said that joining the coop will provide people with a chance to be part of a cooperative enterprise, which he considers a radical idea in the context of today’s self-serving ethos. He said that he hopes that progressives in the Milwaukee community will become members and volunteer workers. Beth Robinson, a doctoral student in women’s labor history at UWM, said she volunteered to work at the cooperative because she was new in town and wanted to get more involved in the community. She said: “As a student who wants to be a teacher, I believe that a bookstore like this is really important to the community.” Membership in the co-op costs $20 per year. Once a member has paid $100 in membership fees, he/she will become a lifetime member. The store is open Monday through Saturday from 12-6 pm. The store is staffed by volunteers only. If you are interested in membership or in volunteering, call 414-962-0575 or visit peoplesbookscoop.org. The bookstore is offering a 20 percent discount on existing stock except for textbooks and new acquisitions. An open-house community celebration will be held on November 17. A panel discussion sponsored by the bookstore on the topic of minority writers and publication will be held on November 26 at 7 pm at a UWM location yet to be determined. For further details, call or stop by the store.
If You Go: People’s Books Co-op Open House 2122 E. Locust St. • Sat., Nov. 17, 12-8 pm 1-3 pm outdoor events, 4-6 pm indoor music, poetry, and tables. 7pm champagne toast.