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

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

The Only Thing Better Than Books Is... FREE BOOKS!

Welcome to the Caveat Emptor Blog!

Caveat Emptor has been in the book business since 1971, and one (of many) of our favorite things about what we do is recycling great books back into the community. Having a browsing customer come in and find that perfect read for the perfect occasion is our raison d’etre! Having knowledge, joy, and adventure passed from generation to generation in the form of a book is a foundational principle on which we have built and maintained our bookstore - and isn’t such a bad idea in general!

This is why we are so excited to announce our program to get free books into the hands of readers around our community. For the last three years, we have been working behind the scenes to build store credit to distribute to educational and non-profit institutions in Monroe County.

It all started with an anonymous customer who donated some books to us. She wanted her books earmarked for credit to go to a certain local school. While we were not set up for such a program, we thought it was a wonderful idea and decided to create something that would do just that. So for every book we’ve received in donation, we’ve put that store credit towards our Book Bucks program and Caveat Emptor has matched it dollar for dollar. We’ve raised over $10,000 worth of store credit and matched it, making our total credit for the community over $20,000!

We’ve distributed quite a few Book Bucks over the last few months, but we need your help with the rest. We had planned on giving the rest (and any other accumulated credit) to local students and teachers this fall, but with our lease ending in August (more on that in another post), we are worried that we might not be around to distribute the rest of the credit. We want to do as much as we can, while we can. Since time is of the essence, we need your help.

If you are a teacher, student, school administrator, school librarian, or a member of any other benevolent institution in or around Bloomington that would like to promote literacy, please contact us at sales@caveatemptorbloomington.com so we can discuss getting you certificates for credit. Please keep an eye out for a FAQ sheet on how you can help in a forthcoming post. And as always, thank you for your support!

~ Caveat Emptor