Caveat Emptor Lease Update

As you may have heard, things are in flux over here at Caveat! We will continue to post updates as we get new information on our situation; as soon as we know, you’ll know.

When we purchased Caveat Emptor in summer of 2016, we asked the previous owner an important question: With your five decades’ experience in the book business, if you were us, what is the first/main thing you would do with this store? His answer, without hesitation, was, “move.” It was solid business advice, but we knew we couldn’t move the store right away for several reasons:

  • We believe that Caveat Emptor needs to serve the downtown/IU community or it wouldn’t be the same institution we’ve loved since 1971. Classic bookstores like Caveat have been dying out across the country, and we wanted to preserve the ethos of what makes the store great for Bloomington. To accomplish this, we were dedicated to not making any major changes for at least a couple of years.

  • We simply didn’t have enough time to find a new location and move our new acquisition (along with a total of about 100,000 books!) in a couple of months. We took over in late June of 2016, and the lease on 112 N. Walnut was up in August 2016.

  • To start over right away in a new spot would have taken more capital than we had. We used the last of our personal resources to purchase the store. Moving would mean we’d need an instant infusion of capital to get new fixtures, book cases, hire personnel, be closed (and revenue-free) for several months, and have a huge, years-long marketing expense to inform the public of our new location after 25 years!

And honestly, we personally liked the bookstore how it was and didn’t really want anything to fundamentally change! So as we try to negotiate a new lease, we do so having always known full well that staying in our current location was a long shot.

This is the latest information on our lease, which ends in August 2019: we are currently in discussions with the property manager about an extension. We would love to stay in this spot, but the terms of our lease for the last three years are quite prohibitive for success. The rent and fees to stay in this location are untenable for our small, independently-owned business.

We also believe that in a broader sense, the rates are too restrictive for any independently-owned business to succeed downtown. We’re afraid that only bars/restaurants and highly capitalized corporate business can succeed in the future downtown unless they own their own building. With construction sprawl and an uncertain and inconsistent parking situation, small businesses in downtown Bloomington don’t seem to have a very bright future.

With this economic backdrop, we have appealed to our leasing agent that someone needs to stand up and fight for small businesses downtown—especially ones that also serve an important social function like ours does. We own the store for one reason alone: we believe in the value of books. Not just because we love books and reading, but for what they represent: the passing along of valuable ideas from generation to generation and building upon those ideas. Books allow us to engage in a global dialogue across space and time, which hopefully generates more fulfilling and prosperous lives. Knowledge, education, and civil discourse are best enhanced through a literate populace. We believe in reading for pleasure, for knowledge, to laugh, cry and any other romantic and/or pragmatic reason.

We believe in this so much that we have not taken a dime from our business venture in the last three years. Any money we have made, we’ve invested back into Caveat. We started a program (Book Bucks) that has already given over $10,000 of books to the community free of charge, and are in the process of distributing another $10,000 in free books to students, teachers, IU departments, historical societies and other benevolent institutions such as a shelter and a community health center—all because we believe it is our primary job to circulate great books throughout Bloomington. That being said, we believe we have a viable business model for the future, and that it can be both profitable and charitable. But we can’t accomplish this if the rent is unsustainable; it currently accounts for 60%-70% of our overhead!

So with this in mind, we are trying very hard to negotiate a lease that can make our business sustainable for many years to come. Many of you have echoed our own sentiments about downtown Bloomington business: that as much as possible, it should be unique, interesting, locally-owned, etc. If we are going to succeed in making/keeping this sentiment a reality, the bottom line cannot be everything, and extracting every last dollar out of small businesses while making downtown less business-friendly year by year, is not the direction we should be going.

We’d like to point out that our leasing agent has been nothing but kind, courteous, and attentive to our plea. Regardless of what happens, our issue is really with the overall situation, not any one specific person or institution. The onus is ultimately ours as a community to do everything we can to have the downtown we want.

So we’re in negotiations and our primary goal is signing a long-term lease in our current location. That being said, we’re realists and we know that we are asking an awful lot for us to be able to stay. We need to come up with alternatives to keep the store alive, whether we stay in our current building or not. We will post again soon about our ideas and thoughts on how to keep Caveat Emptor going if we can’t re-sign a lease at 112 N. Walnut.

Please pass along this information to anyone and everyone who shares an interest in saving this great Bloomington institution!

Next post: Three alternatives for Caveat Emptor if we can’t re-sign our lease.

Thanks for reading!

~ Caveat Emptor