When Buffalo Street Books in Ithaca, N.Y., was about to liquidate its inventory in February, it seemed destined to become one more fatality of today’s economy and e-tailers. Thanks to then events coordinator Bob Proehl, now director of operations, who came up with the idea of selling shares to raise a needed $250,000, when the bookstore reopens on Saturday in the same mall with the famed Moosewood Restaurant, former owner Gary Weissbrot will be general manager and there will be more than 600 new owners, including a nearby church, which passed the hat.
“What we’re doing wouldn’t work in a lot of communities,” says Proehl. “Ithaca worked both because it’s a university town and the shop local movement is really strong. We have a very strong farmer’s market and CSA culture. The community was really primed for it.” His only regret is that by keeping the store’s name, which Weissbrot chose in 2009 after buying the store in 2006, it took longer to set up publisher accounts. Buffalo Street was originally named Bookery II when it opened 30 years ago.
However, the store’s third and current incarnation could be a charm. The liquidation sale enabled Buffalo Street to clear out older stock. “We’re not making significant changes to the inventory right now,” says Proehl, adding “we’re moving to having certain sections curated by members.” So, for example, a stakeholder, who teaches philosophy, would be asked to develop a list of 20 books that should always be in stock. In addition, the store will open with a revamped children’s section. YA has been separated from younger children’s titles, the shelving has been lowered, and the area repainted to give it a cozier feel. In addition, Buffalo Street is looking to transform the room where it stored books for course adoptions into a café.
Although the store has updated its www.buffalostreetbooks.com Web site to reflect the transition from a private bookstore to a co-operative, Proehl doesn’t anticipate a heavy emphasis on selling online. “Our strength,” he says, “is always going to be as a brick-and-mortar store.”