February 16, 2017

Seminary Co-Op Plans Financial Recovery

The Seminary Cooperative Bookstore (Co-Op) is conducting internal changes in partnership with other bookstores in order to strengthen its business, according to an e-mail sent to members on Tuesday. These changes include buying directly from publishers instead of wholesalers, prioritizing events to be both culturally diverse and financially profitable, shifting toward a fundraising business model, developing a blog, and launching a podcast in the spring.

Last summer, the Co-Op sent a letter to members asking for help, explaining that the bookstore had a deficit of $200,000. The letter encouraged members to buy an additional book and to convince a friend to do the same. According to Jeff Deutsch, the current Co-Op director, the Co-Op received an overwhelmingly positive response, in addition to receiving support that offset the entire deficit through fundraising.

Deutsch emphasized the importance of the bookstore’s dedication to carrying books for their introspective qualities rather than for their popularity. “We believe deeply in extra-economic values, but we also acknowledge that we’re a business and we want to be a good business, but that’s our secondary approach,” Deutsch said.

Shelving bestsellers for their financial profit would compromise that introspective integrity. The Co-Op partners with University presses and like-minded presses and publishers to obtain idiosyncratic, thought-provoking scholarly texts.

Deutsch argued that, through these partnerships and the inventory they provide, the Seminary Co-Op has been able to foster the intellectual climate Hyde Park has appreciated since the Co-Op’s inception in 1961. According to Deutsch, the Seminary Co-Op is more than a bookstore; it is a “cultural institution” that attracts UChicago staff, community members, as well as graduate and undergraduate students alike.

In addition to changes in business practices, the Co-Op leadership has also focused on changing shareholder governance policies.

Before September 2016, customers gained the membership perk of a 10 percent monthly rebate only by paying a fee, which also made the members shareholders. This produced an abundance of student shareholders who would not participate in shareholder meetings.

In order to limit governance to those who are more active, the Customer Loyalty program no longer considers newfound members to be shareholders based solely on Co-Op membership. In order to become a shareholder, a member must now invest a stock purchase in addition to signing up as a Co-Op member.

According to a recently released e-mail, old shareholders will be split into two categories: Charter Members and Active Shareholders. Charter Members relinquish their ability to cast votes regarding Co-Op policies, while retaining the monthly rebate membership perk. Active Shareholders will be able to govern, while maintaining their membership discount.

The Co-Op still faces an operating deficit. However, citing a sales growth of 4 percent, Deutsch expressed optimism for the coming year.

“We do this because it’s a calling. Our responsibility to bring these bookstores to the future and have it outlive us… [it is] one we don’t take lightly,” Deutsch said.