The Billings Bookstore Co-operative could be opening in downtown Billings as soon as this summer, possibly in the old Wendy’s restaurant.
Billings attorney and author Carrie LaSeur, who is heading the effort to open a bookstore in downtown Billings, said the co-op group will begin selling shares within the next few weeks. LaSeur requested an $8,000 tax increment finance district grant from the Downtown Billings Alliance on Wednesday to pay for a feasibility study on the former downtown Wendy’s, 2906 Second Ave. N., which has been vacant for a year since closing last spring. LaSeur said it would make a perfect location and size for the bookstore.
“This will be a true member-owned co-op,” LaSeur told the DBA committee. “This came about because so many people missed Thomas Bookstore in downtown Billings. Rather than trying to run a bookstore on one over-burdened entrepreneur’s back, which is what happened with Thomas, we will operate this as a co-op.”
Thomas Bookstore closed in 2012 after Susan and Dallon Thomas operated the downtown business for 20 years.
The DBA committee approved the grant. Now, it will be up to the DBA Board of Directors to make final approval later this month.
Greg Krueger, development director for the DBA, said the study would not only help the bookstore group but the city of Billings because the property has never had a study completed on it.
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Shares in the bookstore will be offered at $100 for a general share, which permits the buyer to be a voting member, and $500 for preferred shares, which would allow the buyer to receive an annual dividend once the store becomes profitable.
“As a practical matter, we need to see if the support is there,” LaSeur said last week. “If people don’t want to put their money where their mouth is, we could be short.”
LaSeur said the committee is working with the owner of the former Wendy’s site, Greg McDonald, to secure a three-year lease on the property. The group does not intend to purchase the building.
The first floor would be used for books and a small cafe, and the mezzanine level would be perfect to host studio space for artists, LaSeur said. The bookstore committee has already found a strong candidate for manager of the store, and members are looking at creative ways to hold a naming contest for the new store.
“We want this to be a new cultural center to downtown,” LaSeur said. “We want to bring in authors for readings and make this a real community hub for literacy. I realize that there are other book stores in downtown Billings, including Barjon’s and A Few Books More, but the rising tide floats all books.”