Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Ask Britt: How to make a second hand bookstore a positive force for good

Last week I announced a new weekly feature that I'm trying out on Have Fun * Do Good, Ask Britt, where you send in questions related to career design for artists and activists, and I'll do my best to answer them. I encourage you to add on to my answers in the comments.

This week's question is:

My husband has recently linked up with a friend to buy a second hand bookstore. Do you have any ideas on how to make this small business venture a positive force for good?

How fun! Just owning an independent bookstore is creating a positive force for good, in my book (no pun intended). Here are a few ideas for your husband's new business venture:

Be green. Natural Resource Defense Council has an article, Greening Your Business, which lists tips for making your business green like recycling, using copier and printer paper that is post-consumer and recycled, using Energy Star office equipment, and getting an energy audit. He may even be able to get his business certified as "green" like the Bay Area Green Business Program does, which could be a selling point for potential customers.

Be a community gathering space. If the space allows, be a low-cost gathering space for your community to have meetings, readings, exhibit art, post events, etc. For example, we have a small store in Oakland called Issues that sells international newspapers and magazines. They are having an art opening this week for Creativity Explored, an organization that helps adults with developmental disabilities create, exhibit and sell art.

Organize other local businesses. Create a "Buy Local" holiday shopping weekend with fellow vendors like the San Francisco Small Business Commission's Shop Local First campaign.

Donate to your community. Hold an annual fundraising event with readings and signings by local writers to benefit a literacy program at a school, nonprofit or library, or to give a grant to an aspiring local writer.

Help your community donate. Make it easy for people to give away the used books you don't want to purchase from them. Provide them with a list of places to donate to, or a collection bin that an organization picks up once a week.

Take care of yourself and your employees. Do whatever it is you need to do to enjoy running your new businesses so that you're happy at your work. Pay your employees the best wages and benefits you can. Happy sales people create happy return customers .

You can email me your question (please keep it to 50 words) about the do-good, or artistic work you are doing, or want to do, to Title your email, "Ask Britt: your question topic." I won't post your name, but I will post your question with my answer, so keep that in mind as you write if you don't want details in your question to identify you.

Flickr photo credit: Strand Bookstore uploaded by Kathleen Conklin


  1. Thank you! I would never have thought reading about a 2nd hand bookstore would be so inspiring for me, but I'm still feeling the warmth in my heart after reading this post. I own and run a massage school in a small town (Durango, CO). We don't currently have a bookstore and I have debated the business merits of starting one, carrying the inventory, etc.

    After reading this post, I have a vision of renting out a small office space in our building and creating a massage/healing community gathering space for massage therapists that has some books on sale, but also has a books and massage products exchange/give-aways, consignment, etc.

    Our school is really committed to helping our community and teaching compassion and consciousness in addition to excellent massage skills. I have no idea how this bookstore/gathering place idea will evolve in reality, but I am filled with the possibility of creating something that supports this vision.

    Thanks again!

  2. Anonymous3:45 PM

    As a disabled person doing case management/advocacy for other adults with disabilities, I have a few suggestions.

    It would be wonderful if the store was disabled friendly! Most people assume that that means wheelchair accessible and don't think beyond that. Many of us can walk, stand etc. but have limited mobility and endurance. Chairs or benches placed where people can take a break would be wonderful. Aisles wide enough to accomodate walkers and canes. Help available to access out-of-reach shelves...the lower shelves for those with bad backs or arthritis; higher shelves for those with vision problems/bi-focals.

    And Rebecca, if you were nearby and had a community gathering space with exchange/give-aways (my clients are ALL people with extremely low income)etc. I'd be referring many of my clients as well as showing up at the door myself.

    The majority of my clients are without medical coverage of any kind, and they've had to leave behind most of the things that make life worth living for many of us. While I'm helping them to address survival issues, I also like to focus on quality of life. Maslow's Heirarchy of Needs is the foundation of People Helping People
    (you can check us out at

    Britt, thanks for a great post! And Rebecca, thanks for gracing your community with both your school and your vision!

  3. Hi Rebecca, Your idea sounds like a wonderful one. I look forward to hearing how it unfolds.

    Cynthia, I feel awful that I left making the space accessibile out. Yes, that is extremely important when designing a space.

  4. For other ideas check out:

  5. Thanks, awileyson. I like the looks of the Housing Works Bookstore. I'll have to check it out the next time we are in NYC.


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