It’s been a busy year for the Book Industry Charitable Foundation. According to executive director Pamela French, the 27-year-old Ann Arbor, Mich., organization is immersed in its largest program expansion since 2011, when it changed its focus from providing financial assistance to Borders employees and began offering aid to all U.S. booksellers and comics store employees. In addition, the past year has seen an uptick in requests for assistance.

It’s no surprise that with heat waves baking some parts of the country and torrential rains flooding others—alongside rising costs for housing and healthcare—booksellers are reaching out to Binc more often. “We used to say that there’s a disaster season from June 1 to November 30,” French says, “but that’s not the case anymore.” She reports that by early August, the organization had approved 220 requests for financial aid, including 76 grants for mental health reasons—a category that Binc added to its list of eligible conditions only last year. The total sum allocated as of late July was almost $226,000, compared to $176,000 in the same period in 2022.

“This year we reached 200 requests for grants on July 20,” French says. “Last year, we didn’t meet that number until October 14.” She points out that not only was the need for financial assistance greater but inflation compelled people to request larger sums from Binc. The primary reason cited for assistance, she notes, was for medical and disability needs, followed by housing instability and household job loss. While the median grant in 2022 was $1,740, that amount rose to $2,206 in 2023.

But Binc is not letting all this interfere with expanding its mission to help booksellers in ways that don’t revolve around natural disasters and personal setbacks. While it remains focused primarily on crisis management, it is also implementing programs designed to diversify the bookselling industry. For instance, Binc is reviving an initiative launched in 2017 that had been paused in 2020 and 2021 and restarted last fall. The Macmillan Professional Development Grant gives booksellers from communities that are underrepresented in the industry assistance to help them attend their respective fall regionals. Each year, one bookseller from each of the eight regional associations receives $500 under the program. “We’re so excited that we can help booksellers attend these fall regionals who otherwise may not have been able to,” French says.

This summer, Binc announced an even more ambitious initiative, also intended to diversify the industry: a business incubator program called BincTank, which will offer mentorship opportunities and financial support for BIPOC and LGBTQ entrepreneurs who want to launch new bookstores or expand existing ones. Applications will open next year, and the pilot phase of the program will run for three years.

“We’ve always been in tune with what the needs are within the industry,” French says, noting that Binc had started to get requests for a way to support an incubator program in 2017, but the timing wasn’t right. “There were several years of research to determine what the need was and if we could deliver a solution. This isn’t something we decided overnight or lightly. We take a long view of things. We’re giving ourselves three years, so that we can determine if this is the direction in which we really want to go.”

Return to the main feature.