ALAMOSA — Over the weekend the Narrow-Gauge Book Cooperative celebrated their one year anniversary since having returned from the brink. Those in attendance were able to take in the music of Rachel Clark, witness a ceremonial ribbon cutting and listen to local author readings featuring Aaron Abeyta, Rachel Clark Robin Blankenship and Kathy Park. All of the excitement was followed up with an after party at Square Peg Brewerks.
A lot of work has gone into getting the bookstore where they are today. Last spring the Narrow-Gauge Newsstand was circling the drain. With news of the impending demise spreading quickly the community worked equally quickly. Marketing Event and Volunteer Manager Marlena Antonucci referred to what she learned volunteering at the Rio Grande Farm Park. “A group of people came together to support this idea and they had meetings with the community to see what this should be and they modeled the non-profit after what the community wanted to see,” said Antonucci “You have to be in touch with what the people of the San Luis Valley want.”
Spearheaded by Cathy Morin and then-AmeriCorp volunteer Antonucci a community meeting was organized to see what could be done about the local bookstore. After the first meeting it became clear there was no one person who could single-handedly save the Narrow Gauge, yet there was plenty of community support. And the cooperative idea was born. In a cooperative, the organization is run and/or controlled by the people who use the product the business produces. With a path laid out Antonucci and company began the journey, hosting fundraising and investment parties.
Within the ashes of the newsstand the embers of the book coop were kindled.
Live music, potluck food and investment opportunities were featured at the weekly parties. In the month of April the combination of weekly parties and an Indiegogo campaign propelled funds to $40,000. The generous outpouring from the SLV and beyond brought Antonucci and Morin to tears. With the financial goal reached, it was time to get the Narrow-Gauge back on track. Those involved are sure to credit the volunteer effort involved with keeping the day-to-day wheels greased. The Narrow-Gauge Book Co-Op (NGBC) now boasts 58 volunteers in their organization with some coming in weekly others monthly while others are specialized to certain tasks. Despite that there is always room for more volunteers. “This model wouldn’t work in most communities, this community is very altruistic, very giving of their time and energy, and it works very well here.” Says General Manager Sheryl Strohm, “Hopefully we can become a model for other book stores.”
The past year has been a learning experience. And the NGBC have been running while they learn to walk. Over the course of the year the Book Co-Op have become American Booksellers Association (ABA) members giving them a network of other independent bookstores in the state of Colorado and in the region, a resource in material and advice.
Crediting the parties and the involvement they stoked in the community the Narrow-Gauge elected to make the book store event based. And it has paid off, with different groups in the valley electing to meet there including The League of Women Voters, SLV Pride, Alamosa Bike Co-op, and Friends of the Library all of which were on hand on Saturday. The Narrow-Gauge refuses to stop there, different programs further community involvement. In addition to the new Membership program which offers monthly charges in exchange for daily discounts and book credits the book store also features a Round-up program. Each month a different Non-profit is chosen then customers are asked if they would like to ‘round-up’ their purchase to the nearest dollar with the change going to the non-profit of the month. Each month the Narrow-Gauge is able to raise near $200 dollars in donation money using this program.
The local roots go deeper still.
Each month the NGBC also features an Artist-of-the-Month. The artist is given exposure as well as having their work displayed and up for sale within the store. As well as a number of local authors being featured after releasing their work. The Artist of the Month for August is Nancy Harris. “You know ultimately we are just a book store but it doesn’t ever feel that way” says Antonucci, “It feels like we are a creative haven, we are a space of inclusivity, a space of knowledge, a meeting place, a place just filled with love and gratitude.”
In addition to her positions at the book store Antonucci will be putting her Master’s Degree in Art History to work as she will be teaching a course at Adams State University in the fall.
Those interested in throwing some coal in the fire can become part-owners by buying stock. As far as investment goes $100 will buy common stock earning the investor a vote in Co-op matters as well as a voice in electing the board of directors. At the $500 price point investors earn the same ownership rights in addition to up to 6 percent dividends at the end of the fiscal year. Stocks can be purchased on-line or in store.
The biggest part of why the store has made it through the first year is because of the people who donate their time and energy and money to a cause they believe in. “It is an example of the community saying that they want something and then making it happen, making change, that’s so hard to do,” concluded Antonucci “And this is living proof that we have the capacity to create the better world that we want to live in.”
Narrow Gauge Book Coop is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday. For more information on volunteering, or taking part in the owner and member opportunities, stop by the store, go on the Facebook page, email [email protected] or call 719-589-3464. The coop is located at 602 Main St. in Alamosa.