The Seminary Co-op Bookstores Transition to Not-for-Profit

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The Seminary Co-op Bookstores, which include the Seminary Co-op and 57th Street Books in Chicago, recently announced that it has established the first not-for-profit bookstores in the country whose mission is strictly bookselling.

The stores have moved from a consumer-owned cooperative to a not-for-profit corporation owned by the public. The stores’ tax status will remain unchanged, as the move to a not-for-profit is unrelated to the IRS and tax exemption.The Seminary Coop Bookstores logo

Jeff Deutsch, director of the Seminary Co-op Bookstores, told Bookselling This Week that the transition has been years in the making, with many meetings with the co-op community and town halls to discuss what would be the best decision moving forward.

When discussing the transition, the Seminary Co-op community cared deeply that whatever model the store took on, they would still have their voices heard and that the store would continue to focus on selling books that don’t sell very quickly, Deutsch said.

In a recent letter to the co-op community, Deutsch noted that the Seminary Co-op came to this decision because of its commitment to bookselling above all else.

“We are a cultural institution disguised as a retailer,” he said. “Our cultural work of creating an unparalleled browsing experience and a hub for community — a gathering place predicated upon the written word and the printed page, devoted to literature of enduring, discursive, and aspirational value — needs no further utility to justify its existence.”

In a press release, Deutsch also noted that the Seminary Co-op’s “product” has always been the “browsing experience created by our unwavering commitment to stocking and selling books of the cultural, literary, and intellectual value.”

Said Deutsch, “Establishing the store as a not-for-profit — as opposed to its current status as a strict retail operation — also acknowledges the financial realities of our business model, which privileges cultural value over financial dividends.”

The new structure codifies this mission, he continued, noting that this will allow the Seminary Co-op to invest in the browsing experience “rather than overly concern ourselves with the vagaries of the market at a given moment.”

Customers who are not already involved as a shareholder with the co-op will notice no change in the Seminary Co-op Bookstores; while shareholders will notice slight changes, Deutsch said, they won’t be significant.

“We’ve built a model where we can actually carry more books,” Deutsch told BTW, “and focus on low-margin books and books that sell slowly in a way that might not be possible right now.”