October 26, 2016
Point Reyes Books is changing hands
by Simon Reichley
Point Reyes Books has been around since 2002, when Steve Costa and Kate Levinson purchased the Brown Study Bookstore, and joined what they call “a growing movement of independent businesses across the nation creating local, ‘living economies’ and seeking a ‘living return.’’’ Twelve years later, Point Reyes has become one of the independent bookselling community’s great success stories. In 2006, along with a cohort of local volunteers, they founded the West Marin Review, and in 2011 they spearheaded a community-supported bookselling program that has grown steadily over the last five years, and has been adopted by a number of stores around the country.
But to everything there is a season, and to every purpose a time. For Costa and Levinson, their fourteen year season has come to an end, and after a long, thoughtful search, they have announced that the store will be sold to the husband-and-wife team of Molly Parent and Stephen Sparks. Parent and Sparks have been figures in the Bay Area literary community for a long time. They met as booksellers at Green Apple Books in San Francisco, where Sparks currently works as a manager and book buyer. After leaving Green Apple, Parent signed on as Communications Manager for 826 Valencia, a non-profit founded by Dave Eggers that offers tutoring in literacy and writing to children.
Parent and Sparks have mostly financed the buyout with the assistance of several unnamed investors, but are still looking to raise about $30,000 in extra capital in order to pay for, among other things, the paperwork and taxes associated with the buyout, a website update, some physical plant renovations, and legal incorporation as a Benefit Corporation. Benefit Corporations are a newfangled type of business entity; incorporation can give a business like Point Reyes (or Kickstarter or Patagonia) the same legal protections as a traditionally incorporated business, while providing a legal backing for the pursuit of non-profit motives. As far as I can tell, it basically prevents your shareholders from firing you if you decide that poisoning a well in North Dakota isn’t worth the $100,000 you’ll save in disposal fees. Or whatever the independent bookstore version of that moral dilemma would be.
In any event, the new ownership is set to go into effect on January 1st. According to a report by John McMurtrie in the San Francisco Chronicle, Parent and Sparks hope to expand events programming, start carrying more small and independent press titles, and add “some of our own personal touches.”
The only thing harder than starting and running a small business is handing over the reins without totally ruining everything. The fact that Costa and Levinson have managed the transition with such aplomb is notable in and of itself, and we wish everyone involved the best of luck in their new endeavors. We also urge you to check out their Indiegogo campaign. Help if you can, either by supporting the campaign, or joining the CSB.
Simon Reichley is the Director of Operations and Rights Manager at Melville House.