A C.S.A. for Books

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Many farms on the Blue Hill peninsula have adopted such programs, and Haskell watched a local brewery, Strong Brewing Company, get its operation off the ground with a community-supported beer program. “It’s worked for farmers. Rather than compromise the shelves, she looked to local farms for inspiration, devising a plan modelled after “community-supported agriculture,” commonly referred to by its initials, C.S.A. Of course, “the C.S.B. It sits on Pleasant Street, in Blue Hill, Maine, a coastal town with a population that swells during the warmer months and thins out again each winter, reduced to its cast of fewer than three thousand year-round residents. “The idea of purchasing a season’s or a year’s worth of books seemed like an interesting way to structure thinking about a customer’s relationship to the store,” Haskell said recently. but that he can’t wait to return to Blue Hill Books this summer to buy a share.) Beth Gutcheon, whose novels include “Still Missing” and “Gossip,” was one of the first people to become a C.S.B. She has received positive feedback from fellow-booksellers as well, and she hopes some will implement similar programs at their stores. Though Haskell wasn’t aware of it when she came up with the idea, other bookstores pioneered the model. Such programs rely on people who can afford to spend a fair amount on books—and all at once, too. “We’re in a resort community here—the market is very limited—so we’re continually thinking about what we can do to keep the place vital and growing,” Calendrille said. “It’s not a donation; it’s not an investment,” Sichterman explained. Haskell said that her “interest in running a business is as much about the community-development aspect as it is about books,” and that the C.S.B. Its success prompted Maryann Calendrille and Kathryn Szoka to start a C.S.B. More than fifty people became members in the program’s first month. This past winter, in the midst of that slow season, Hughs and Sichterman retired, leaving the bookstore in the hands of Samantha Haskell, who had been their full-time employee since 2010. Over the past few decades, C.S.A.s have grown in popularity across the United States. works it can reinforce one of an independent bookstore’s advantages over Amazon: a close relationship with those who shop there. also comes with a little bit of privilege attached,” Stephen Sparks, who, with his wife, Molly Parent, recently purchased Point Reyes Books, said. Costa and Levinson were members of a C.S.A., and Point Reyes, like Blue Hill, relies on summer tourists—they started their program to address the same problem that Haskell was facing. model is simple: consumers commit a certain amount of money to a farm up front in exchange for a portion of the future harvest. But when a C.S.B. Haskell had working capital to survive the first year, but, in order to maintain the breadth of the store’s inventory, she needed to raise additional funds. “It’s one of my favorite places, when I’m up there in Maine, to be,” he said. At Blue Hill Books, C.S.B. In 2011, Steve Costa and Kate Levinson established what might have been the first C.S.B., at Point Reyes Books, in Marin County, California. has helped to strengthen that part of her work. member. All of the booksellers described an independent-bookstore boom, crediting a surge of localism and a return to Main Street shopping. Farmers use the resources to support themselves during the slower months. The philosopher Daniel Dennett, who spends   part of the year in Little Deer Isle, about twenty minutes from Blue Hill, recently dropped by the store to purchase a share. Blue Hill Books would become a community-supported bookseller: a C.S.B. as a way to cushion the store’s changing of hands, but she now thinks that she’ll keep it in place permanently. Angell is one of   many writers who spend summers on the Blue Hill   peninsula. It’s more of a “gift certificate for yourself.” Blue Hill Books has a large porch, with four white columns and a chalkboard listing current best-sellers. “It’s a form of politics, really. It’s saying, We make our world, so let’s make a good one.” at their store, Canio’s Books, in Sag Harbor, New York. members can purchase a “share” for a thousand dollars—or partial shares for two hundred or five hundred dollars—and draw on that credit to buy books throughout the year. When Samantha Haskell took over a bookstore in Maine, she looked to local farms, and “community-supported agriculture,” for commercial inspiration.CreditILLUSTRATION BY SALLY DENG

Mariah Hughs and her husband, Nick Sichterman, founded Blue Hill Books in 1986. It should work for the bookstore,” he said. The American Booksellers Association says that it has been gaining members; last year, the association reported, independent bookstores sold about five per cent more books than they had the year before. Lethem agreed. (Lethem said that he’s not yet a member of the C.S.B. Haskell initially envisioned the C.S.B. The C.S.A. It’s the kind of place where you can “come in and spend a while,” as the   New Yorker   writer Roger Angell, who summers near Blue Hill, put it. The writer Jonathan Lethem, who is a regular customer, described the shares as “a way of literalizing” the implicit feeling of ownership and belonging that many people have for their local bookstores. “It’s like a form of collective self-possession to say, We want our bookstore to thrive in a town,” he said.