September 09, 2015

From the Office

bp Alan Beatts

It's been about six months since we almost closed the shop.  It seems like a good time to update everyone on where the business stands, how things are going generally, and where we are relative to our long-term goals.

If you're not familiar with the whole story about what happened in February, you can read all about this blog.  But, you might enjoy an article that recently appeared in Guernica Magazine that gives a nice overview and a different perspective <>.

In general, business has been going quite well.  Sales have been solid and are modestly up compared to last year (thank you all for that).  We've done several quite large author events (Paolo Bacigalupi, Richard Kadrey, Seanan McGuire, John Scalzi, and Jo Walton, among others) along with a whole slew of smaller but fun and well-attended events with other authors.

Our two newest employees, Scott Cox and Maddy Hubbert, are both settling in well, though they're still in the process of learning "all the things".  It's surprising when I think about it but it usually takes around a year for someone to truly learn how to do all the aspects of the job.  But, that's the consequence of having everyone learn all the jobs around the store (aside from the back-office financial work, that is).

Of course, we are all learning constantly even after a decade and a half on the job.  Our field is constantly expanding and the history of it is so deep that I don't think it's possible to know in its entirety.  It is a source of constant pleasure to all of us to be part of a tradition that has such a long and rich history.

Personally, I'm doing quite well, though still working a bit more than I like.  Setting up the sponsorship program was more work than I anticipated but it has mostly been the fiddly bits of putting systems in place and getting it all running smoothly.  However, all that is close to done and Scott has taken over much of the day-to-day work from me.  I expect that next year will give me the chance to start really digging into other projects.

Speaking of the future and other projects, back in May I talked a bit about long-term plans, specifically getting some improvements in place at the store and, much more importantly, starting a long-term plan to purchase a building to house the business.

I've always thought of Borderlands as a personal project, and assumed that it would end when I was tired of it, incapable of running it, or I died.  The dramatic reaction to the sponsor program and the conviction on the part of many people that Borderlands is an institution has made me rethink that assumption.  I now believe that, if possible, I should create a way for Borderlands to outlast me.  Owning a building is the most important and difficult part of that goal.

At that time my idea was to found a non-profit organization, using extra funds that we received when we had more sponsors sign up than we needed (we need 300 sponsors each year; this year more than 800 people signed up).  The goal would be to create the organization, raise money, and eventually purchase a building to house Borderlands along with, if there was enough room, other bookstores as well.

I spoke with a number of people in both the legal and non-profit worlds about that idea and discovered that there are some pretty serious obstacles to making it work.  I'm still mulling the idea over but, at this point, it looks like it's not going to happen.  If you're curious about the exact reasons for that, let me know and I'll be happy to explain.

But, I'm not giving up on that goal.  I'm just taking a different angle on it.

We already pay a fair amount in rent.  If we were able to find the right building, at the right price, and if we were able to make the down payment, we could use that money to pay a mortgage rather than our rent.  Of course, that is a little like the old joke, "If we had some biscuits, we could have tea and biscuits.  If we had some tea."

However, I've been watching property listings in San Francisco for more than a year now.  There are buildings out there that would suit us very well.  Granted, the prices are quite high now but, even in the (probably) insane real estate market we have in SF right now, the prices are not out of reach.  If we had the down payment.

A year ago I would have figured that getting the quarter-million dollars or so that would be needed was completely out of reach.  But, the success of the sponsorships has made me reconsider that.  Each year we will need $30,000 to make up for the shortfall caused by the higher minimum wage.  This year we received over $80,000 from our sponsors.  If the number of sponsors stays close to that level (or even goes up), we could have that down payment in five years.

On top of that, there are several other possibilities that might mean we can get there either sooner or with fewer sponsors.  First, the current high prices will almost undoubtedly drop sometime.  It might be next year or it could be in five years, but I do not believe the current situation is going to last.  Second, there were a couple of ideas that people suggested when it looked like we were going to close that, although not sufficient to fix the minimum wage problem, could increase our income by a non-trivial amount over the next one to two years.  And, finally, there are other ways that I might be able to raise funds to get us to that goal.  Any or all of those things could either get us there faster or manage to get us there with fewer sponsors.  Taken together, all that gives me good reason to hope that we might succeed.

So, that's one of the next projects for me.  Working on ways to get that down payment together, watching the market for the right building, and being ready to move quickly if the chance presents itself.  It might not work but, if we can swing it, we'll make bookselling history for a second time.  As well as traveling a long, long way towards securing Borderlands' future.

Of course, I'll be working on other things around the shop as well.  I'd really like to be able to easily live-stream and make podcasts of our events.  I've got some shelving to rearrange and build so we can get our used paperback section up to snuff (I'm not happy with the size of it right now).  And I'm sure that other things will come up as I go along.  Pretty much business as usual around here.  But I'm still going to be thinking about a permanent home for the shop . . . all the time.

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