Point Reyes Introduces Community Supported Bookselling [3]

Inspired by the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) movement, the owners of California’s Point Reyes Books [5] have introduced a Community Supported Bookstore (CSB) Program [6] to help their business “navigate the crests and troughs of running a small retail operation” and to give customers a stake in its continuing success. Point Reyes co-owner Steve Costa hopes they will be pioneering a model that other booksellers can eventually mirror.

Point Reyes Station is a small town in West Marin County, an area populated by several local farms that residents readily support through CSA programs.

“Many people in this area have established support systems with local farmers and growers,” said Costa. “We felt like this was a natural application, and we could build on that movement.”

To participate in the CSB program, customers make a deposit into their account and draw future purchases against the balance. The minimum deposit is $150, but the response has already been so great, said Costa, that a number of people have put down much more. CSB members receive special benefits, including a five percent discount on all in-store or online purchases. Costa is confident that the five percent return is “better than you can get on Wall Street these days” and thinks that the incentive will be a “win-win situation, for both our customers, and the store’s ability to sell books.” The investments will be directed toward overhead and event costs throughout the year.

Since Costa and his wife, Kate Levinson, purchased Point Reyes in 2003, they have been determined to run a business that fosters community engagement. In addition to maintaining an active event schedule, the store publishes an annual lit journal and has raised more than a quarter of a million dollars for local nonprofits.

“I think this is an opportunity for people to step up and show how much they appreciate the things we do, and the bookstore is pretty essential in terms of the life of the town here,” he said.

The CSB Program was announced at a ticketed Michael Ondaatje event two weeks ago, and the bookstore has been drumming up support ever since.

“We’re going to treat this like a political campaign of sorts,” said Costa, who has identified 500 customers who regularly make special orders, and plans to send them a “snail mail” letter to invite them to become members. Additionally, the store will be sending out invitations through its newsletter and has been handing out invitation cards in the store. Point Reyes has also received local news coverage and is advertising the program on Facebook.

In just two weeks, the CSB program has yielded 35 members representing $10,000 in investments. Costa is confident the store will reach its goal of having 200 members by the end of the year, and 500 by the end of next year. Furthermore, he hopes to be able to present a template or outline to other bookstores who wish to replicate the CSB model.

There’s something about the timing, too, that’s been fueling customers’ desire to support local businesses, Costa said.

“I think that there’s something about the Occupy Wall Street movement that’s resulting in people looking for more opportunities to invest locally. People are coming in saying that it speaks to this local interest and concern to support independent business. We’re pleased with that sort of line of thinking.”

Customers seem eager to support the store, said Costa, and are very receptive to the idea of a CSB program. “The word I keep hearing is ‘brilliant,’” he said.