Community Support Advances Opening of Phoenix Books in Rutland

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Vermont’s Phoenix Books  is using a “community supported enterprise” model to open a 2,400-square-foot location in the Lake Sunapee Bank building on Center Street in Rutland this August. This will be the third location for Mike DeSanto and Renée Reiner, his wife and business partner, whose other stores are in Burlington and Essex Junction.

In January, the couple began inviting friends and supporters to pre-buy books to help fund startup costs for the new store. Local energy company Green Mountain Power, which, along with the Downtown Rutland Partnership, recruited DeSanto and Reiner to open a bookstore in Rutland, has helped rally support among area businesses and residents.

DeSanto, who called the Rutland store “an incredible collaboration,” said, “It is going to mimic the Essex store as far as content and product mix with a big focus on the children’s side of things. The Burlington store is more urbanish, while Essex is more ex-urban. Most of the people around here are centered in Burlington as the core, but Essex has a lot more family interest, and we think that because Rutland is a smaller community that that model would work best.”

The location is also ideal for a large children’s section because a new Wonderfeet Kids’ Museum is opening right across the street this Friday.

“We already have a relationship with the executive director there, and we’ve talked about developing cooperative opportunities between us,” DeSanto said.

The community supported model came about, DeSanto said, as a result of his wife’s success opening Phoenix’s Burlington location in 2012 using Vermont’s Small Business Offering Exemption. The regulation, which offers entrepreneurs some relief from their larger capital start-up needs, simplifies the process for small businesses to solicit money from public investors to start or grow a business.

“I felt that such a process could be of use in putting together another store,” DeSanto said. “For the Rutland store, this time we decided to go for a broader blanket approach by gathering support from individuals in the community in smaller amounts that would tie them to the store as far as customer loyalty goes.”

Since then, DeSanto and Reiner have been focusing on finding individuals to put up $1,000 each in advance of store construction for a credit worth $1,000 in books once it opens. The new store currently has commitments from well over 50 people, DeSanto said, adding that the 17,000 people in Rutland show an intense loyalty to their community, having previously led the way in saving the city’s old Paramount Theater and redeveloping it into a great new venue.

“It’s really the community that is driving this; so many people in the community really treasure the idea of a bookstore. They consider it a crucial part of the town and a vibrant presence, which offers the opportunity to bring more people into the community,” he said.

Downtown Rutland Partnership executive director Michael Coppinger told the Rutland Herald: “Independent bookstores are a real treasure. It’s a niche we have been needing to fill for a while in the downtown. Our market studies have shown that a well-run bookstore will do well in the downtown.”

If other booksellers want to open a second location in a small town or large city, DeSanto advised that they “get to those one or two important leaders who really want to help that happen and who are willing to use their personal stature to bring it about.”

Steve Costello, vice president for generation and energy innovation at Green Mountain Power, told the Rutland Herald that his company had reached out to different organizations in the previous months to “roll out the welcome mat” for the bookstore.

With a community supported enterprise, DeSanto and Reiner avoid the strain on their personal capital, which they are instead putting into fixtures, furnishings, and equipment. Once the store opens, they will sell the books they order for their opening inventory directly back to the community, who have essentially already bought them. Customers who pre-buy now will also get a 20 percent book club discount, which costs $30 annually at Phoenix’s other two stores.

“What I am doing with Rutland is a kind of template, I hope, for someone looking to find a small community that is interested in bringing a bookstore in,” DeSanto said. “I think bookstores are perfect for doing this.” 

In addition to more pre-buyers, the store is also looking for someone to come in as a minority owner, DeSanto said. Those interested in pre-buying to support Phoenix Books’ Rutland location can contact [email protected].