Great meeting at the Billings Library

We had a great crowd last night at the Billings Library for the rollout of the new name, along with investor information, updates on the space, and more. For those who missed the meeting, fear not! There will be plenty more of them around town. Watch this website or our Facebook page for details. Also, all of the handouts from the meeting are available on our download page as printable PDF files.

Photo from the Billings Gazette article about the presentation.
Photo from the Billings Gazette article about the presentation.

Board President Carrie La Seur explained what a cooperative is in Montana and how it applies to the new bookstore. The person who first suggested to her that it should be a co-op, former Billings mayor Chuck Tooley, was in attendance along with some of the other early instigators.

General Manager and CEO Gary Robson went over his plans for the store, with a major focus on events. A lot of published authors, including Robson and La Seur, have become member/owners of the co-op, and Robson plans to have book signings and talks with them and with other prominent authors from around the country. He is also planning game nights, poetry readings, tea tastings, standup comedy, and acoustic music events. In the spirit of community, there will also be meeting space made available to book clubs and writer’s groups.

Robson went on to discuss the tea bar and how it will be integrated into the bookstore, and then talked about some of the volunteer opportunities that will be opening up.

Architect Randy Hafer then talked about the space itself, a 5,000 square foot building in downtown Billings that used to house a Wendy’s restaurant. Hafer talked about making the space more open and light right away, and adding longer-term improvements like outdoor seating for the tea bar.

We want This House of Books to become a new cultural hub in downtown Billings, and the support everyone showed at this presentation really made us feel like the city is behind us!

We have a name!

We have selected a name for our store! It will be known as This House of Books. The name is a tribute to the iconic Montana author Ivan Doig and his autobiographical masterpiece, This House of Sky.

The name, however, is more than that. It’s a reference to our store’s community ties. We want our member/owners to think of us as a home, a refuge from the real world, a house filled with books. The fact that over a dozen of those books are Ivan’s makes it all the better!

Our member/owners tend to be lovers of big sky country, and many of us are writers. Ivan has been an inspiration to us. His lyrical prose captures us even as he’s slipping a history lesson into each book. Above and beyond that, Ivan was something the world has all too few of these days: a gentleman.

Ivan Doig

I say “was” because we lost Ivan last year to multiple myeloma, which he’d been battling for eight years. We reached out to his widow, Carol, before announcing the name, and we are thrilled that she has given her blessing to This House of Books.

The folks at Harvest Books, which published This House of Sky, described it well:

This haunting, magnificently written memoir introduced an important American writer. Now, in its Fifteenth Anniversary Edition, Ivan Doig’s preface provides stirring details of the making of this memorable book. Ivan Doig grew up in the rugged, elemental Montana wilderness with his father, Charlie, and his grandmother, Bessie Ringer. His life was formed among the sheepherders and characters of small-town saloons and valley ranches as he wandered beside his restless father. Doig’s prose resonates as much with the harshness and beauty of the Montana landscape as it does with those moments in memory that determine our lives. What Doig deciphers from his past with piercing clarity is a raw sense not only of the land and how it shapes us but also of the ties to our mothers and fathers, to all those who love and loved us, to those who formed our values in our search of intimacy, independence, love, and family. This powerfully told story is at once especially American and quietly universal in its capacity to awaken a longing for an irretrievable past.

This House of Sky cover

Time to get involved!

See that tagline at the top of this website that says “a community-owned independent bookstore”? It takes a community to make a project like this happen. We can’t just wait for someone else to do it—we each need to jump in and get involved.

There are lots of ways to get involved in this bookstore. During this crucial start-up phase, we need investors to provide us with the funds to renovate the building, buy the inventory, and hire the staff. Becoming a member-owner isn’t expensive; a single voting share sells for only $100. For the price of a dinner for two at a nice restaurant, you can have a satisfied feeling that will last far longer than the satiated feeling from the meal.

You can also volunteer. We’ll need plenty of help to get the store up and running, and plenty of ways to pitch in afterward, too. No matter what your skills are or how much time you have to volunteer, we can use your help!

Please pitch in. Download the Fact sheet for Investors and Stock Purchase Agreement, talk things over with family and friends, and be a part of the movement!

Billings Bookstore Cooperative Hires General Manager, Acquires Red Lodge Books & Tea

The following is the press release that the co-op issued today. For questions, please contact Gary Robson at 406-446-2742.

The Billings Bookstore Cooperative has hired Gary Robson to manage the new store they intend to open later this year. They have also purchased the assets of Red Lodge Books & Tea, which Robson and his wife have owned since 2001.

“We’ve been working on the bookstore co-op for over a year,” said co-op board president Carrie La Seur, “and all of the pieces are falling into place. We have a great location downtown and Gary is the perfect general manager to bring all of our plans to life. Hiring him and buying the assets of Red Lodge Books & Tea significantly reduces the time it will take to get the Billings bookstore up and running.”

Robson has extensive bookstore management and publishing experience, and—like La Seur and a number of other co-op shareholders—is also a published author. He is best known for his Who Pooped in the Park children’s books, which have sold over 400,000 copies, but also writes nonfiction and historical fiction. His 28th book, Gary’s Guide to Successful Book Signings, comes out this month.

“I’m looking forward to an exciting new challenge in Billings,” Robson said. “Being a part of a larger community—and being located just down the street from MSU, Rocky, and the Billings Library—gives us a whole new set of opportunities that don’t exist in a small town like Red Lodge.”

The board of the cooperative intends to make the new store a destination for book lovers, a concept Robson heartily endorses.

“Our inventory will be a carefully-curated collection of books that fit the community,” he explained.”As a full-service bookstore, we’ll have a little of everything, but the focus will be on regional authors and topics, educational books, nature & science, classics, and a strong children’s section. We’re also putting together a calendar of free public events, including author appearances, educational seminars, poetry readings, game nights, children’s book readings, and tea tastings. We’ll also be offering meeting space to book clubs, writers’ groups, and other community organizations.”

Red Lodge Books & Tea, which has been in Red Lodge since 1986, will be closing down in June, and all of its inventory will be moved to the new location in downtown Billings for an opening in late summer or early fall.

The tea bar at Red Lodge Books & Tea, a part of the store for the last five years, will become the café in the new Billings Co-op store, where it will expand and take on a new look. The current tea bar manager will continue to run it in Billings. The tea bar will continue to do business online during the transition time between the closing of the Red Lodge store and the opening of the Billings store, so customers will still have access to all of their favorite blends.

First general meeting

Today was the first general meeting of the Billings Bookstore Cooperative member-owners, in the upstairs meeting space of the Good Earth Market, another Billings cooperative.

The first order of business—after determining that all present were properly subscribed for at least one voting share—was a news update, where the steering committee brought everyone up-to-date on grants, share sales, the search for a general manager, and discussions regarding an in-store café.

We then held an interactive editing session where everybody present had the opportunity to comment on bylaws for the Cooperative. The text was displayed and edited on a projection screen for all to see. Once comments and edits were finished, the member-owners voted unanimously to adopt the bylaws. We will post them on this site soon. In the meantime, anyone who wishes to review the bylaws can use the comment section on this website to request a copy.

The bylaws allowed for a three-member board of directors with three-year terms. Next year at the general meeting, the board will be expanded to five members, and the following year, it will be expanded to seven. Each new director added will have a three-year term, so no more than three members will have terms expiring in the same year.

Once the floor was opened for nominations, the member-owners quickly seated a board consisting of three people who have put in many volunteer hours working on making this Cooperative a reality: Carrie La Seur, Precious McKenzie, and Nina Hernandez.

Company goals and objectives

Our short-term objective is to achieve profitability within the first three to five years of operation. Over the next five years, we will reinvest in the business and consider making the first dividend payments to member-owners. Our long-term goal is to become an anchor for downtown culture and activity so that the co-op may serve and enhance the community for generations to come.

Our target market includes downtown residents, employees, business owners, and visitors. We will be a destination for book-related events in the region, working co-operatively with the library and other bookstores to promote literacy and a culture of the book.

After a downturn due to e-books, online booksellers, and box stores seizing chunks of the market, independent booksellers are now increasing in numbers due to several factors. “There is increasing evidence that the same digital transformation that has so dramatically reshaped the publishing industry, and driven millions of consumers online, also paradoxically rewards locally rooted authenticity.” Indie bookstores are using technology to their advantage, and customer preference for locally-owned businesses is growing. Our cooperative business model taps this trend in a powerful way by making our best customers member-owners with a stake in the bookstore’s success.

We will provide a uniquely tailored book-buying experience featuring new and popular titles. We will build our reputation on knowledgeable and friendly customer service, quick turnaround on special orders, and commitment to serving the community. The bookstore will be a venue for frequent free, public events, such as author talks and book signings, panel discussions, poetry open mics, book clubs, workshops, musical performances, children’s story times, and receptions for local nonprofit organizations. We also will conduct off site book sales for organizations and special events throughout the area. Co-op member volunteers with diverse relevant experience expand our ability to conduct community events.

Our cooperative business model spreads the work, risk and start-up expense over a large group of individuals to make the enterprise more sustainable than a sole proprietorship. A board of directors will handle strategic decisions and a general manager will handle daily operations, supervise staff, and coordinate member volunteers.

Fabulous Grant News!

Today the Development Committee for the Downtown Billings Association voted to recommend our bookstore building feasibility study for funding at 100% of the cost up to a maximum of $8,000. It will be on the agenda for review and a final vote at the Downtown Billings Partnership, Inc. March Board meeting, March 25th at 7:30 am in the first floor conference room of the GW building (2722 3rd Ave. N). If you see anyone affiliated with DBA, please thank them for believing in our bookstore!