Orca Books, a longtime destination for book lovers in downtown Olympia, has turned the page on one business model and embraced a new approach that could bring community investment and financial stability.
Part of that change already has happened. On April 17, after working with the Northwest Cooperative Development Center, the bookstore was incorporated as a co-op. Now, the membership drive has kicked off as part of an event called Co-opatopia.
“Orca Books offers the community a chance to keep an anchor institution downtown that helps define Olympia’s identity,” said John McNamara, senior cooperative development specialist of the NWCDC, in a statement.
Owner Linda Berentsen said she seeks to raise $300,000, which would accomplish three things: buy her out of the business, pay off debts, and provide working capital for operations.
“I didn’t want to walk away from it,” she said about the bookstore, but she said she could no longer subsidize it by not taking a salary.
To reach its financial goal, Orca is offering three different levels of membership. An organization or business can join for $200; a regular membership costs $100; a low-income membership costs anywhere from $25 to $99. All are one-time fees, she said.
In return, members will receive discounts and voting rights, according to a news release. Other benefits are still to be determined, Berentsen said.
The bookstore now has a board, which currently consists of store employees, but eventually representation from the community will be added, she said.
Berentsen has been in the book business since the early 1990s, when she bought Counterpoint Books from her father. It sold fiction — the only section that was alphabetized — but it also had no new books, no in-store trading and no section signs.
If you would like to become a member of the new Orca co-op, you can sign up at the store at 509 Fourth Ave. E.