Meeting Minutes 120913

Seminary Co-operative Bookstore, Inc.

Annual Membership Meeting Minutes

December 9, 2013


President William Gerstein called the meeting to order at 6:00 p.m. with about fifty members in attendance. He welcomed members to the new space, commenting that the attractiveness of the new location is due to the efforts of the general manager Jack Cella, who recently retired after forty years, and to the generous support of the University of Chicago, who paid for the move and the build-out designed by Tigerman McCurry Architects.

Arthur Sussman reported on the search process for a new general manager. The board has appointed a search committee and engaged the services of Isaacson Miller, a national executive search firm. Nancy Maull, a former Deputy Provost and Dean of Students at the University of Chicago, is directing the search. The job description that is guiding the process is on the Co-op’s website. At a meeting with the search team last week, the Committee reviewed a list of about a dozen candidates. They will meet again in late January. In the coming weeks they will be expanding the list and conducting interviews with the aim of presenting final candidates to the board in February or March.

Members raised a number of questions from the floor about Mr. Cella’s departure and its impact on the future of the store and its unique culture. Mr. Sussman explained that Mr. Cella and the board had been in discussion about his retirement for some time, and that the timing of his departure was a mutual decision. The board and the search firm are aware of the unique skill sets required by the general manager of an independent, co-operatively owned bookstore in an academic community. They are also aware that a way must be found to balance the concern for book culture with the need for a viable business model.

Mr. Sussman introduced Erin Mulrooney, the Interim Executive Director for Bookstore Operations, whose services the board has obtained on a half-time basis from the University to oversee the stores during the search process and to act as the board’s liaison with the staff. She reported on recent changes at the stores. The management of the store at the Newberry Library was transferred back to the Library at the end of October. A new point-of-sale inventory and management software system is being acquired. It should be installed in early spring, and will improve customer service and greatly improve the quality and transparency of data management at the stores. A five-year financial plan is being developed to set a course for solvency. Some gentle changes at the front end of the store will be coming soon: newspapers and periodicals, greeting cards, and a few gift items. She reported an FY2013 operating loss of $183,000 and an additional $738,000 loss in inventory miscalculation. First quarter financial results continued the downward trend of recent years with an operating loss of $95,000 and the Co-op continues to have cash flow difficulties. Continuing support from the University and a line of credit from the Hyde Park Bank will help the Co-op during the implementation of the new financial plan. The long delayed Plein Air Café across the lobby from the bookstore should be opening in early 2014; the owners supplied refreshments for this meeting.

Alicia Murasaki, Executive Director of the University Facilities Planning and Design, spoke about the construction projects around the bookstore’s new location. The effective eastern entrance to the Quadrangles will move a block east, to Woodlawn Avenue and 58th Street, when construction of the Becker Friedman Institute is completed in May. Joining the Co-op in the Woodlawn corridor are the Neubauer Collegium at 5701, the Paulson Institute at 5707, and the Institute of Politics at 5711. These institutions, along with Becker Friedman and the Booth School, will be significant “people drivers” to this area.

Julie Peterson, chair of the board’s Marketing Committee, spoke next. Having staged the successful Grand Opening in May, the committee is currently doing a “benchmarking” project, gathering information about best practices from independent bookstores around the country. The committee is also exploring ways to raise the profile of our events program.

Mr. Gerstein brought to the floor the nominations to fill board vacancies (Mr. Hansen, chair of the Membership Committee, being out of the country at this time). Mr. Gerstein and Levi Stahl are leaving the board at the expiration of their terms. Their replacements in nomination were:

Joyce Feuer, a Hyde Park business person and former owner of Joyce’s Hallmark; and

Austan Goolsbee, Professor of Economics at the University of Chicago, Booth School of Business.

After some discussion as to whether new nominations were allowed from the floor, the president determined that nominations to the board under the bylaws were the responsibility of the board Membership Committee. Both nominees recommended by the board Membership Committee and the board were elected. It was announced that the new board president would be Harry Davis.

Larry Greenfield, a former board president of the Co-op, proposed a resolution thanking Mr. Cella for his years of service:

Members of the Seminary Cooperative Bookstore, gathered at the Annual Meeting on December 9, 2013, express our deep gratitude to our General Manager of forty years, Jack Cella, for creating with his colleagues a truly great, wondrous, and one-of-a-kind bookstore and providing extraordinary, informed, and exquisite service. We regret his departure, his retirement. We miss him already, recognizing that Jack was a constant expression of the culture that has been our distinct identity. We wish him our very best and hope that he will take enduring satisfaction from the truth -- the simple truth -- that he has enriched the life of the mind, the University and related institutions, the neighborhood we share, and, yes, the lives of us all, the members and patrons of our bookstore.

This resolution was approved by the membership.

The meeting adjourned at 7:30.