The Future of Caveat Emptor

As we have said in a previous post, we are attempting to renegotiate our lease (which ends in August 2019). We would like to reiterate that it is our preference to stay in our current location, downtown at 112 N. Walnut. Our leasing agent is hearing us out and has been attentive and gracious—for that we are appreciative.

We also want to emphasize that the store is actually doing well! Revenue is up, we’re selling as many books as ever, there’s a resurgent interest in physical books and “retro” reading, and we are slowly implementing ideas that will work with 21st century customers. We have a steady stream of browsers every day and we’re still acquiring wonderful collections each month. We’re proud to circulate great books not only through our store, but we recycle books back into the community by donating thousands of books a year to Hoosier Hills Food Bank and Friends of the Library. Our Book Bucks program has been a major success, raising over $20,000 in matched funds to distribute free book certificates around the community. Every sign of health for our beloved institution is pointing in the proper direction aside from one single variable: we are paying way too much for rent. The store can not only survive, but it can flourish if we find a more sustainable situation.

If, despite our best efforts, we can’t sign a new lease, we need to explore other options. We have come up with three ideas that would keep the store alive (and thriving for years to come!) when our lease is over in a few months. Commercial property is a very difficult thing to navigate by ourselves, so we are asking for your help. If you, or anyone you know, has ideas about how to get us in a new home with long-term viability, please tell us! Caveat Emptor is not just another retail store, it is a vital part of the Bloomington community and it deserves a place to call home for another five decades. So here are three ideas which we feel would keep Caveat alive and prosperous. They are in order of what we would like to see happen, starting with the most optimal.

Caveat Owning Its Own Building

Nothing would be more sustainable than for Caveat to control its own destiny. Owning our own building would mean that we would have a fixed overhead mortgage cost in perpetuity. Additionally, the money we pay at the first of the month would be going towards building equity in our own asset, instead of being dumped into someone else’s coffers. Our store wouldn’t be at risk from commercial property market fluctuations, inevitable rent and fee hikes, or the sword of Damocles that is the lease expiration.

We know this would be tricky, but we also know it’s the most sustainable solution. Over the years, we’ve talked to every bookseller we could find. The ones who are making it had one thing in common: they own their space. Here are the things that would probably need to fall in our direction for this to be accomplished:

  • We would need to find a sympathetic seller of a property around campus/downtown — someone who believes in what we’re doing, and could let their property go at a pretty good price. If you are someone like this, or know someone like this, we want to know! Perhaps we could work out a contractual agreement for a rent-to-own situation.

  • If we couldn’t find a seller that would rent-to-own, we would need to finance a down-payment on a property if we went the more traditional route. We’d try to raise funds through any sustainable means:

    • A huge fundraising sale of books.

    • Selling discounted gift cards to the store.

    • Kickstarter or Go Fund Me campaigns or other crowd funding. If we just got a dollar from every customer from the last 5 decades, we’d have more than enough!

    • Low-interest loans from private lenders or perhaps angel investors?

    • Any and all help from the community is the key to finding a solution.

  • We would need to find a property that checks a lot of boxes:

    • Location near campus and/or downtown.

    • Has the space enough for books, office, storage, and enough room left over to hold events (book signings, readings, book clubs, etc). Even perhaps a small area to have coffee/beer/wine and a great social atmosphere.

    • Obviously parking would be a huge bonus!

    • The property would need the foundational structure to bear the weight of tens of thousands of books.

We are betting it’s a long shot, but the most sustainable option is to put Caveat in its own home. If you know of anyone who has a property that might work, and you think we can talk them into letting it go for a reasonable rate, please pass along our interest. Any advocacy on our behalf would be enormously appreciated.

Finding a New Location for Caveat With a Sustainable Lease

Our second option would be to find a landlord who believes in what we do and is willing to work with us on a lease.

We’d be looking for a sympathetic landlord that shares our vision of sustainability long-term. Perhaps a short-term lease that is in our favor to try to implement our ideas for decades-long prosperity. The trade-off is that any potential landlord is getting a tenant that has a 48 year history of paying the rent every month on time and already has a working business model and ideas for increasing revenue in the future. Basically, we’re looking for a rent discount in exchange for our history, stability, and (what we consider) benevolence.

If there are any commercially viable property owners out there that believe in what we’re doing to save this institution, please help us find a home!

Selling Caveat

We want to be clear: we do not want or even need to sell the bookstore. Further, we have no intention of selling the Caveat name to someone who wants to just buy the books and pick the carcass. We also have no intention of selling to anyone who wants to fundamentally change what it is, its mission, its history, or the intellectual ethos on which it was built. Even if we don’t find a new home, we are happy to keep the books and the name, and keep fighting to hopefully re-open someday.

That being said, we would entertain offers from a person or persons (buying group?), that would want to continue this great institution, its values, and its history. If we found buyers that perhaps had more operating capital than we do and could hopefully see the store through the next five decades, we would love to hear your proposal!

Again, we neither want to sell nor do we need to sell, but if we found ourselves in a situation where we thought Caveat could continue in someone else’s care, then we would happily let it go for the right deal. So, please, if this is something that might interest you and you have the means to make a serious proposal, then we are listening. Our primary concern is keeping a wonderful bookstore alive and flourishing, and we have zero interest in just selling off a commodity piecemeal.

We thank you for your continued support! Even if you can’t help in finding us a new home, the two best things you can do to help us are to spread the word, and come in and buy books!

You can contact us through Facebook or email us at sales@caveatemptorbloomington.com

Thanks for reading!

~ Caveat Emptor