The new independent co-operative Heartleaf Books was opened by sisters Caroline and Mads Vericker on Atwells Avenue last Wednesday. Heartleaf is a consumer and worker cooperative that aims to engage community members by allowing them to buy shares in the business and become co-owners.
“We want to be a community bookstore, so we thought we’d put our money where our mouth is and it would actually belong to the community,” Caroline Vericker said.
With a background as librarians, the sisters had long aimed to open a bookstore where the community had a say in the products sold, Mads Vericker said.
One of the cooperative’s seven principles is to work together as a community to drive down prices and fight big companies like Amazon, noted Mads Vericker. “Especially after COVID, I think there’s been a huge shift away from big business and instead towards smaller, local mom-and-pop stores,” Caroline Vericker added.
Besides helping with the decision-making, their board also helped set up the store and organize the books, Mads Vericker explained.
Mads Vericker was previously a librarian at Brown, where they worked as an electronic resource specialist at the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Library. “I’m kind of a behind-the-scenes librarian, so I did all the business stuff” for the store, they said.
Caroline Vericker was a public librarian in Franklin, Mass. She worked in circulation and gained experience working with the public and keeping track of popular books. “So it really made sense for us to take that knowledge and work together,” she said.
But it was a long process of converting their original brick-and-mortar vision, Mads Vericker said. They had held pop-up stores and fundraisers throughout the last year, raising around $15,000, including member contributions. They also received a $50,000 loan from the Cooperative Fund of the Northeast, a loan fund that helps community-based and worker-oriented businesses, she said.
The sisters started by buying about 2,000 books to fill the store. They wanted to have something for everyone, Caroline Vericker said, but they also wanted to tap into the queer and artistic spirit of Providence. Their shelves are full of “wizardy and weird stuff” in addition to fiction, young adult and children’s books, she said.
The store also has a themed book exhibit that they plan to change almost weekly, Vericker said. The current theme – “banned books” that have been censored throughout history – is particularly meaningful to Mads Vericker.
“Censorship is one of the reasons I got into librarianship because I just remember as a child I was so frustrated that there were certain things I wasn’t allowed to read. “, they said. “It’s always kind of stuck with me. I truly believe in freedom of information and the ability to share and exchange ideas that may not be mainstream. »
Caroline Vericker emphasized that bookstores are important community spaces for the exchange of information. “We saw that in this neighborhood, the West Side, there really aren’t a lot of bookstores and libraries,” she said. “We just wanted to help fill that gap.”
Siobhan Dowd, a first customer at Heartleaf, said they lived nearby and had been walking past the store for weeks waiting for it to open. “I was an English student (in college) and have been a book lover ever since I can remember, so I was so excited to have a place I could walk that seemed to have a really wide variety of leftist, queer and racial studies. books,” she says.