Nonprofit plans for bookstore take shape

New London - The Monte Cristo Bookshop's conversion to a nonprofit cooperative took a step forward this week when about 15 potential volunteers gathered at the Crocker House to plot a new direction for the 2-year-old business.

Michael Whitehouse, who will lead the organization as executive director at least through the initial transition period, said he was encouraged by the turnout Monday, which included writers, editors, a builder and several people with nonprofit experience.

A working meeting to continue moving forward toward a handover of the business reins later this month from the current owners, Gina and Christopher Jones, will be held at the independent Green Street bookshop at 7 p.m. next Tuesday.

"If this group comes together and does half of what is considered to be done ... I think we can have something that's very vibrant," said Michael Blair of Stonington, who owns the bookshop building at 38 Green St.

Blair, who previously converted the Velvet Mill in Stonington into a space for artists, said he considers the bookshop a centerpiece of his Green Street building, which includes affordable studio space on the upstairs floors. He said the bookstore's monthly rent of $1,287 would remain unchanged for another year, with the third year of the Monte Cristo lease calling for a slight increase.

Store co-owner Christopher Jones said he would turn over the city's only downtown bookshop and all of its inventory to a voluntary nonprofit headed by Whitehouse after the close of business Aug. 21. The Joneses had run the store at a slight profit but not enough to support a family, he has said previously.

"It does good things for New London ... but it's not really a big money maker," Whitehouse said at Monday's meeting.

Jones plans to help guide the bookshop during its initial phase as a cooperative by becoming part of a temporary board of directors. Whitehouse hopes enough momentum will have been generated by November to call a general membership meeting and elect a permanent, nine-member board to which he would report.

Whitehouse said the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut will be holding a ribbon-cutting at the book shop at 5:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 22. The following two days, from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday and noon to 6 p.m. Sunday, a grand opening celebration is expected to feature a used-book sale, art exhibits, local authors, poetry and other events.

"The Monte Cristo Bookshop exists to be more than just a place to buy books," according to the nonprofit's mission statement. "It exists as a place to bring people together where they can exchange ideas, listen to authors and build community."

Whitehouse said he envisioned needing four hands-on managers overseeing events and outreach, inventory and facilities, membership and finances. Each of the managers would have a seat on the board, and the executive director would chair the panel as a nonvoting member.

Whitehouse said members of the Monte Cristo cooperative could pay $60 annually, $200 to cover five years or $350 for lifetime membership rights. They also could earn their membership by volunteering, perhaps 16 hours a month, he said.

Those who contributed to the initial Monte Cristo fundraiser through the crowdfunding site Indiegogo would likely be given credit for the amount of their initial donation, meaning a $60 gift two years ago would translate into a one-year membership today, Whitehouse said.

Among those who showed up Monday for the organizational meeting were Ian Thomas of Writers Block Ink, local playwright Kato McNickle, Theo Maryeski of Bike New London, Annah Perch of New London Main Street and writer Willa Correnti, a soon-to-be city resident who, with husband Jim, once ran an independent bookstore in New York City.

Gina Jones, who helped launch Monte Cristo two years ago, said she is hoping that by keeping the bookstore open, many positive activities, such as literacy events for children, can be launched in the city.

"I'm absolutely thrilled it can keep going," she said. "There's an opportunity to do a lot of good things."

l.howard@theday.com

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