Boxcar Books Case Statement
Boxcar Books Case Statement
Boxcar Books and Community Center Inc. and The Midwest Pages to Prisoners Project exist to promote reading, self-education, social equality, and social welfare through increased accessibility to literature and workshops - and the promotion of a community to support these projects.
Boxcar Books and Community Center Inc. began as an idea between Oliver Haimson and Matthew Turissini for a bookstore, a community meeting space, and a new home and legal entity for The Midwest Pages to Prisoners Project in September of 2001. The idea was to start a bookstore that would meet the goals set forth in the mission statement stated above, but also be very well-run and organized. The two had been involved in a collectively-run infoshop called Secret Sailor Books, which was falling apart at the time. They asked for and received the blessing of the other people involved at Secret Sailor to start a new space. Oliver and Matthew considered organizing the new project with more people, but no one else was willing to make a similar time or monetary commitment to the project. Over the next few months, the two asked four other people to be on the board of directors, began to file for legal status as a 501(c)3 tax-exempt non-profit of Indiana, looked for spaces, saved up the money needed to start the space, planned a budget, and began collecting inventory for the store.
The Midwest Pages to Prisoners Project had been in existence since 1995, had moved between four different spaces, and was in the process of looking for a new home. The organization had never filed for any legal status. In its six years of existence, the organization had sent out over ten thousand books to prisoners free of charge. Boxcar Books and Community Center Inc. enabled The Midwest Pages to Prisoners Project to become a tax-exempt nonprofit organization, get more physical space for storage and meetings, and set up new fundraising and networking opportunities.
In January of 2002, Boxcar Books and Community Center Inc. began renting a space to house all of its projects. On February 1st the bookstore and meeting space opened for business enabling the organization to begin its operations for those purposes and offering the non-profit corporation a stable income for its various operating costs. Since opening, Boxcar Books has over tripled its inventory to over 7,500 books, helped set up author readings and many other in-store events, vastly increased its customer base, expanded its stock of magazines, zines, and other items, and started an online store.
Structure and Decision Making
In starting the organization, a number of different structures were considered. A tax-exempt non-profit status was decided on. The structure mandated a board of directors, so the two founders sought people who would be interested in working shifts. The original board included Oliver and Matthew as officers of the board (Oliver’s official title is General Coordinator, and Matthew’s official title is Financial Coordinator), as well as Chris Haug, Corinna Manion, Christie McCloud, and Monica Sentament. The six original board members worked all of the shifts at the bookstore. It was decided as a group to keep the number of people involved small. This was to make sure that everyone was very personally invested and knew what was happening with different aspects of the organization. As time went on, this became a strain on those people, so those who had shown interest were brought in to sub for shifts, and eventually some began to work regular weekly shifts. After awhile this was formalized as a set number of 14 people who would work and sub for all the shifts.
The board initially met separate from the group of 14 to make larger decisions. This eventually ceased, and the group of 14 became the main decision making body of Boxcar Books. The board of directors remains active, but only as a group of 6 people who have a more long-term commitment and personal investment in Boxcar Books. There is still a fair amount of vagueness as to what decisions the board is responsible for and how the board responsibility is different from the group of 14, but the group is working to make this more clear.
Boxcar Books started with all of the decision making, financial commitment, and accountability on Oliver and Matthew. As the board was set up and other people volunteered, this began to be spread out in a limited fashion but often unclearly. The board became responsible as a group for making some decisions. Individuals became responsible for others, and many decisions that came up on a daily basis were left up to the person working the shift. Some responsibilities and tasks were taken over by other people, but Ali and Matthew continued to do a fair amount of the work outside of working shifts such as finances, legal paperwork, and book ordering and to do much of the organizational work of planning new inventory, coordinating building projects, and doing any other work they thought needed to be done.
Abbey Friedman became involved about six months after the space opened. During her first year she worked hard to get involved, continually offered her help on big projects, and picked up a lot of responsibility. Her role soon became similar to Oliver and Matthew’s. The three of them now coordinate a fair amount of the bookstore part of the project. They all have individual responsibilities such as magazines, book ordering, and finances and share responsibility in a loose fashion for making sure everything else goes smoothly. A number of other people have also picked up projects that they are responsible for such as zine ordering, the newsletter, and the A/V section. For fundraising events, publicity, and other large or long term projects working groups have been set up at times to plan certain projects. So far all of these projects have existed for a few months at the most. The hope is that some of these working groups will become more long term. Recently, Boxcar Books has revamped its system for non-shift-worker volunteers, and made it easier for people to get involved who want to help out, but not necessarily commit too much time.
Currently, the bookstore is structured so that a number of people have responsibility for certain decisions. If anyone has a problem with a decision they can take it to the group meeting so that people can discuss the decision. The board of directors is currently Abbey Friedman, Oliver Haimson, Corinna Manion, Christie McCloud, and Matthew Turissini. The board has decided that Christopher Taylor will be added as the sixth board member soon. Corinna coordinates the Midwest Pages to Prisoners Project. Oliver, Abbey, and Matthew coordinate any loose ends at the bookstore that no individual or group is otherwise specifically responsible for.
The bookstore makes almost all of the operational budget for the organization each year. The Midwest Pages to Prisoners Project operates mostly off of donations and fundraisers, but its rent and utilities are paid for by the proceeds from the bookstore. On average the bookstore makes between $3000 - $5000 a month in store, with an additional $500 - $1500 from events. The majority of this money goes to paying rent and utilities, reordering books sold, buying batches of used books, copies, postage, other supplies for the store, and to fund further projects. The bookstore is at the point where it can start putting money towards other projects. It has been decided this year to start putting some money towards publicity and long term savings. The bookstore originally started off of long term interest free loans of about $10,000 that Oliver and Matthew put together from working at their jobs. This money officially comes due this winter in which case either extensions or payment plans will need to be setup.
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