At least once per day we watch a customer go to open our door, and see their face fall when they realize we are still closed to browsing. Many people seem surprised by our extended, unbroken closure of almost ten months. With the recent surge in COVID-19 cases and attention on local conflict between small business management and workers, we wanted to share a little bit about that decision.
Over the Summer, many indie bookstores reopened in some capacity, and feeling the pressure of under-performing sales, we seriously considered doing so ourselves. We had many conversations as a collective to imagine what a limited reopening could look like. We were not all in agreement, but our structure and relationships allowed us to engage with differing perspectives and empathy. In the end, those of us who were interested in reopening decided to prioritize the needs of our most cautious and at-risk co-workers. This emphasis on consent is at the center of our mission as a non-hierarchical workplace.
Being a small business operating under capitalism, we are frequently forced to make decisions that expose the tension between our shared values and the economic future of our co-op. The value of being able to make these decisions collectively — especially when they pertain to the health and safety of ourselves or community — cannot be overstated. We acknowledge that we would be in a much tougher position had our business not been able to redirect a significant portion of sales to e-commerce (if we still operated a cafe, not reopening might have meant accepting that 2020 was our final year). Nevertheless, as a democratic workplace we will always have the opportunity to weigh our options together, with concern for every member of our team.
Being a co-op does not eliminate the challenges of existing under capitalism, and mutualizing the entire economy would not in and of itself constitute a revolution, but cooperativism does offer us a pattern that can prefigure a better world while giving us the tools to meet our needs in the present. We know that when we work together, in workplaces and in our communities, we are more resilient in the face of crisis.
Firestorm plans to remain closed to foot-traffic until the risk this pandemic poses to our staff has significantly decreased. Until then we will continue to explore safe and creative ways of staying connected to our community. <3