Danny Caine, the owner of the 35-year-old Raven Book Store in Lawrence, Kans., for the past five years, has sold 49% of shares in the store to a group of seven Raven employees. Each of the employees has a 7% stake in the store, while Caine retains 51%. The transfer was finalized on January 1, with Caine loaning the new employee-owners the funds to purchase their investments, which will be re-paid to him out of future store profits.
The new employee-owners are Kelly Barth, Mary Wahlmeier Bracciano, Jack Hawthorn, Nikita Imafidon, Chris Luxem, Hannah Reidell, and Sarah Young. The seven have a combined 70 years of bookselling experience at The Raven.
“It feels like the right move,” Caine said, “I’m not sure there was a single moment of inspiration. I have been paying attention to bookstores that have alternative ownership models – like Buffalo Street Books in Ithaca, N.Y., which is a co-op, and Porter Square Books in Cambridge, Mass., of course, which is very close to what we have done. I talked to David Sandberg at Porter Square quite a bit through this process and it was a very smart move for them.”
Caine noted that The Raven has undergone a number of changes in the past two years, such as a huge growth in online sales during the pandemic and an emphasis on public advocacy for indie bookselling, culminating with Caine’s 2019 book, How to Resist Amazon and Why. The Raven also moved last spring into a 2,000-square-foot space, double in size from its previous location to better accommodate a shipping area for online sales.
“We moved to our new location and it was like a pivotal moment for The Raven,” Caine said, “I was thinking about the future, and how to make sure that the success we’ve found is durable and will stick. I floated the idea to some of our managers and store leaders, and they were interested." Caine said shares were offered to staff who have been there the longest and who are in leadership positions. "It’s a long-term agreement for them, but for me too. I’m staying on as general manager. The duties aren’t changing, it’s just giving the core employees a literal stake in the business.”
Caine noted that he loaned the funds to the seven employee-owners to purchase their shares to smooth the way for those booksellers on his staff who wanted to take their careers to the next level. “It’s so hard, especially without money for a down payment, or renovating, or buildout, to attain the ownership level,” he pointed out, “We designed this deal to get around that. These folks can advance and make more money and take serious professional steps towards a career in bookselling without a huge infusion of cash. I think that’s important to all of us.”
Caine himself was a part-time employee at The Raven who had just completed graduate school when he purchased it from its previous owner in 2017. The Raven was founded as a mystery specialty bookstore by Mary Lou Wright and Pat Kehde in downtown Lawrence, 40 miles away from Kansas City, in 1987. It now is a full-service, general bookstore, regarded by locals as an institution.
“I never thought I'd be a business-owner,” Wahlmeier Bracciano said, “But it feels so good to share that title with many of my closest friends. Even more so, as my sense of ownership in the store has grown over the last few years, it's now put down roots that will support my passion for years to come.”