Want to own a bookstore-and a piece of herstory? The country's oldest women's bookstore, Minneapolis' 38-year-old Amazon Bookstore Cooperative, is up for sale, said General Manager Barb Wieser. While she didn't want to name numbers, Wieser said the asking price is "reasonable. We're not looking to make a fortune, just cover some debt."
When she made the decision to leave, Wieser hoped that other members of the worker-owned cooperative would carry on the store's management, but the other longstanding employee didn't want the responsibility, and the more junior employees have been at the store for relatively short periods of time or work part-time, so the decision was made to sell Amazon.
The store, which is located in the bustling 48th and Chicago shopping area, began on the front porch of a private home in 1970. From the beginning, it's been a worker-owned collective. "All members of the collective have equal voting rights, with equity based on years of service," said Wieser, who's been with the store for 21 years. She said that her decision to leave has to do with wanting her life to move in a different direction, something she started to think about last summer after a life-changing trip. She made a firm decision to change when she turned 60 in November.
"I was on an Arctic canoe trip last summer with three other women, three weeks around the Arctic Circle. It was a great trip, very challenging-we didn't see another soul for three weeks," Wieser said. "After that kind of trip, it can kind of shake you up, even if you're not thinking about making changes in your life." That trip and the experiences of a friend who'd been in the Peace Corps 10 years ago got Wieser to thinking about her future, she realized that the time to act was now.
"I really wanted to live somewhere around the world for a while," she said. She's applied to serve in the Peace Corps in Africa, and hopes to put her experience in small business management-she worked in women's publishing prior to Amazon-to work helping women in small-business development.
The bookstore gained national attention over its 1999 copyright lawsuit against giant Internet retailer amazon.com. When the suit was settled for an undisclosed sum, many thought the bookstore was sitting pretty, financially speaking. Not so, Wieser said. The settlement the bookstore received was not a huge one, and, "Like in a lot of these cases, much of the settlement went to pay attorney's fees."
It's common knowledge that like many independent bookstores, Amazon has struggled financially in recent years. Although the store hasn't made a profit in a couple of years, said Wieser, "It's in relatively good shape, which is a testament to the generosity of the community, that we've been able to carry on. We have a good location, a good website, a long-term lease," she said, ticking off the positives. "I think the right owners, with some energy and resources, could revitalize the store. There is a lot of good stuff here."
Wieser said she's committed to staying to see the store through the transition, something she thinks will happen by summer. In just a few days, she said, there have been a couple of serious inquiries. And though she's looking forward to the next chapter in her life, she admits to a certain amount of bittersweet feeling.
"It was hard to press the 'send' button to email the announcement that the store was for sale out into the world," she admitted, "And I'm sure that the day I walk out the door for the last time will be a sad one too."