The Seminary Co-op: A Not-for-Profit Bookstore

The Seminary Co-op: A Not-for-Profit Bookstore

Members and Friends,

I am thrilled to announce a new chapter in the history of our bookstores: in partnership with our community, we have established the first not-for-profit bookstores in the country whose mission is bookselling. In doing so, we more accurately place the work of the Seminary Co-op in the realm of the cultural institution while still recognizing our primary mission as booksellers. In turn, with our unique purpose front and center, our conversations with our business partners, other cultural institutions, and you, our community, will grow more collaborative and productive.

The Seminary Co-op’s “product,” if you will, has always been the browsing experience created by our unwavering commitment to stocking and selling books of cultural, literary, and intellectual value. We recognize that, in addition to purchasing books, most of our customers patronize our bookstores in order to interact with a space dedicated to books – a space, as Aleksandar Hemon writes, “where nothing except books seems to exist fully, where everything else is either not important or already in the books.” 

Establishing the store as a not-for-profit (as opposed to its current status as a strict retail operation) also acknowledges the financial realities of our business model, which privileges cultural value over financial dividends. Our new structure codifies this mission, allowing us to invest in the browsing experience rather than overly concern ourselves with the vagaries of the market at a given moment.

While we are now a not-for-profit corporation owned, ultimately, by the public, and no longer a consumer-owned co-operative, in practical terms, our former co-op shareholders will experience little to no change in their interactions with the store. Our engaged book-buying community is still invited to participate in annual meetings where our bookstores’ performance is reported and in the full range of events we offer; they continue to receive regular communications and updates from the bookstores' leadership, as well as, of course, perks such as rebates and our annual sale. Community members are invited to nominate candidates for the Seminary Co-op Board, and those nominees will be considered and elected by the Board. 

We will also remain unchanged in terms of our tax status. Although we thoroughly explored 501c options, our move to a not-for-profit is entirely unrelated to the IRS and tax exemption. While there are bookstores that operate as 501c(3) organizations, they do so on behalf of causes unrelated to the browsing experience they create in their stacks or to bookselling proper. Rather than attempt to shift our mission to fit ourselves into the IRS's set categories of qualifying causes, we are adamant that
bookselling itself is a cultural good. We are determined to establish the bookstore as a cultural institution which needn't justify its public good in any other way.

We invite you to join us in this shared endeavor. The work of building these bookstores has demanded your investment, cooperation, and participation, and that too remains unchanged. Please continue to support us in the following ways:

  • Buy books in our stores and on our website
  • Consider providing financial gifts to support the bookstores’ vast collection and the booksellers who curate and maintain the stacks
  • Engage with our virtual communications, including our newsletter, blog, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram
  • Listen to our podcast, Open Stacks
  • Attend our author events
  • Share ideas, comments, suggestions, and concerns with or
  • Encourage your friends, family, colleagues, and others to consider all of the above as well

This structural change is a statement of our intent to serve our community into the unknown and unknowable future. I am confident that the not-for-profit model will help us better serve our patrons and communities by allowing us to focus explicitly on the work to which we have implicitly dedicated ourselves for nearly six decades.

As Hemon observed, “What makes the Co-op so great is that it is so unabashedly invested in the necessity of books. You can read that investment in the depth of reading choices, in the width of human interests the books cover, in the thoroughness of making sure no corner of the human mind is underrepresented. Because, as we know, books are manuals for being in the world.”

Yours in bookselling, 

Jeff Deutsch
Director, Seminary Co-op Bookstores