Bookstore Survives Governmental Charity by Resorting to … Charity

What do you do when you run a store that can’t remain profitable due to governmental regulations? Why, ask people to “sponsor” you!

Charities online
(“Charities online,” by HM Revenue & Customs, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

A little background, for those who need it: There’s a specialty bookstore in San Francisco, Borderlands Books, that is well-known to the science fiction and fantasy community because it’s an independent SF&F bookstore. A few weeks ago it announced that it was closing because the city of San Francisco raised the minimum wage to $15 an hour and when they ran the numbers they couldn’t sustain operations for more than a few months. Their announcement prompted an outpouring of angst among the SF&F literati, such that the bookstore owners decided to ask people to bail them out and began selling annual “sponsorships” for $100. Now, having gotten the 300 sponsors they need, they’re going to be able to stay open for another year.

Am I the only person who finds this a little hard to follow?

1. The city raises the minimum wage, to the level specified by burger flippers and their loyal supporters.

2. A business announces that it can’t remain profitable and provide that wage, just as predicted by people who understand economics and the law of supply and demand. Actually, it said,

The change in minimum wage will mean our payroll will increase roughly 39%. That increase will in turn bring up our total operating expenses by 18%. To make up for that expense, we would need to increase our sales by a minimum of 20%. We do not believe that is a realistic possibility for a bookstore in San Francisco at this time.

3. In response to expressions of regret over its impending closure, the business asks good-hearted friends as well as total strangers to keep it afloat, not by providing goods or services in exchange for value (though they did offer some token items that few people are likely to redeem), but by begging people to just give it money, even though the owner admitted:

I didn’t think that it was right for a for-profit business to ask for a hand-out to continue operating.

4. The bookstore also stipulated that this trend of relying on charity will continue, year after year, into the future:

If next year we again reach our goal by March 31st, we will remain open through 2016. This process will continue each year until we close, either because of a lack of sponsorship or for other reasons.

5. People come out of the woodwork to give the business money.

To rephrase my previous question, Am I the only one who finds this passing strange?

Maybe I shouldn’t find it surprising or strange, in this age of “crowdfunding” that allows people to engage in commerce not by taking on the risk of an enterprise but by generating interest and spreading the risk around. I’ve backed several Kickstarter campaigns myself, and don’t get me wrong: I wouldn’t turn up my nose at anyone throwing money my way, and can even provide quick and easy ways to do so. But I can’t help but wonder about people far removed from San Francisco who decided that the best way to use an extra $100 was to prop up a failing bookstore there, rather than, say, help out real charities in their local areas.

And maybe I’m the only one to suspect that at least some of the people who donated to┬áthis for-profit business have no deep appreciation for capitalism and see no irony in having to make up for falling profits caused by a governmental edict that they agreed with in the first place.

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2 Responses to Bookstore Survives Governmental Charity by Resorting to … Charity

  1. Guy Stewart says:

    This might be a clunky way to get in touch, but I just thought it might inspire you to add one of your “space history” posts as today’s ISS space walk was close to the 50th anniversary of Alexy Leonov’s inaugural walk on March 18, 1965!

    • Sorry for the late reply, Guy — I saw your comment too late to get anything up, and then it just slipped my mind. Thanks for the suggestion, though!

      Best,
      G