In Just 45 Days

The first meeting about forming the Monte Cristo Collective Bookshop was August 5th, 45 days ago, and the Collective took over on August 23rd, 27 days ago. The Collective took over with $34 in the till, a team that consisted of a hair over half a dozen people, a shop too hot to be occupied for any length of time, and an idea.

The goal was that the shop would eventually be open 77 hours a week and become a financially secure institution.

At this point, over 40 volunteers have offered their assistance with about 5 new volunteers signing up each week, and next week we will have 44 hours covered. We have an author coming in tomorrow afternoon to speak on a fascinating topic. We have a great team forming to bring an amazing array of events in the future.

Our thanks to our Membership Manager Alison Downs for organizing these 44 hours, and I look forward to seeing 77 hours on the schedule shortly.

We still have some major challenges, but I would say that we’ve come a long way in 45 days.

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How Do I Become A Member?

We’ve had some folks ask how they can become members of our new collective. There are two ways to do it. First, you can drop by the shop when it’s open. Alternatively, you can buy membership online through our GoFundMe page.

Memberships are $60 for a year, $200 for 5 years, or $350 for life. Members get 10% off new books, 20% off used books, voting privileges, and other benefits.

Some people have expressed concerns that such a new enterprise may or may not make it. Fear not. If the Collective does end up shutting down, your membership dues are convertible to merchandise (prorated $60 per year elapsed).

You can find our GoFundMe page here.

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Why Weren’t You Open?

During the transition into our new nonprofit form, some people may have come to the shop when they expected it to be open and been disappointed to find it closed. “What’s going on?” you might wonder.

The new shop is all volunteer run, and we are working as quickly as we can to recruit enough people to get the shop open a good range of regular hours. Our first goal is to be open a few hours weekends, and 11-2 weekdays, which, believe it or not, is the busiest time of the day. Then, we want to build up to get to be open 10-9, 7 days a week. Of course, that is 77 hours a week, and that takes many participants.

What does a volunteer do? A minimum, we just need someone trustworthy to hang out in the shop and be on hand to greet customers as they come by. Some volunteers want to do more, and they help us sort books, keep things neat, arrange displays, and other helpful tasks, but even if you just want to hang out a few hours a week reading a book and being on hand, that is a few more hours that we can have the shop open to the community.

We also need volunteers to run events. We would like to get a board game night running, as well as book clubs on various topics like sci-fi, biography, business, etc. We need someone to take point on organizing these events. It’s not terribly difficult work. You’d just need to be there for the event, make some posts on Meetup and do a bit of other promotion.

If you would like to volunteer for these roles or if you feel you could be helpful in any other way, please email our executive director Michael Whitehouse at michael.g.whitehouse@gmail.com

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The Beginning of a New Era for Monte Cristo

Two months ago, the Monte Cristo Bookshop’s fate was completely up in the air. On August 22nd, it will open its doors as a new nonprofit bookshop.

It was early summer of 2014 when Michael Whitehouse grabbed a three day old paper from his back seat to read. In the business section, an article discussed a bookshop in New London going up for sale because the owners were no longer able to live off the earnings from the store and had to pursue new careers. Michael met with the owners, Chris and Gina, to discuss the possibility of buying the shop. After a couple of days of discussion, Chris called Michael for a fateful conversation, in which he revealed that it had been decided to sell the shop to another bidder. (Wouldn’t be a very dramatic story if it was that simple, would it?)

Michael went off on his merry way, celebrated the birth of his first child Rowan to his lovely wife Amy, and largely put the bookshop out of his mind, until another phone call in early August changed the course of bookshop history in New London forever. It was Chris Jones and he wanted to know if Michael was still interested in the shop.

This time, Chris sent Michael the full financial records to review, and Michael met with Chris and Gina again. As you know, if you are a fan of the Monte Cristo Bookshop, the shop is a wonderful asset to New London. It brings great authors, hosts insightful conversations, and is a cultural resource. It also doesn’t make very much money at all. It makes enough to cover the bills, but not enough to support an owner.

When Michael sat down with Chris and Gina, the conversation came down to one key question: “Are you trying to get money from the shop or are you trying to keep the mission going?” They both immediately replied that the mission was more important. The shop was never about the money, it was always about what they could do for the community. “Good,” answered Michael, “then I have a solution.”

In 2008, Michael oversaw the formation of a nonprofit, volunteer run collective game store in Amherst, Massachusetts known as Worlds Apart Games. The organization exists to this day for the mission of providing a social space for people interested in games and other geeky pursuits. It is entirely volunteer run, and it is self supporting. That same model seemed ideal for Monte Cristo Bookshop as well.

After that meeting, things moved quickly, and on Friday, August 22nd, at 11 AM the Monte Cristo Collective Bookshop will open its doors for the first time. Volunteer run. Nonprofit. A new phase for a cultural institution in the city of New London.

This weekend, we will be celebrating this exciting new transition with a weekend full of activities:

Friday, 5:30 PM - Ribbon cutting with the Eastern Connecticut Chamber of Commerce
Saturday, 2:00 PM - Carol Mon presents A Guide to Networking for Introverts
Sunday, 4:00 PM - Nick Checker reads from his new book SCRATCH

All day Saturday (10-8) and Sunday (12-6), we will have our entire inventory of thousands of used books for sale in a sidewalk sale, accompanied by a number of local artists.

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