Firestorm closing for month-long makeover

Firestorm Café & Books is taking a break: From Sept. 17 to Oct. 16, the worker-owned cafe, bookstore and community event space will be open only for already scheduled events, and won’t be serving food or drinks. That time is scheduled for workers to look at their business plan and renovate their shop, replacing the floors and adding a new countertop for laptop users.

The shop is run by a group of co-owners whose goal is to share responsibilities and eliminate the need for managers. They frame themselves as a collective, and they call their endeavor “an alternative economic model based on cooperative, libertarian principles,” according to a pamphlet at the register.

Co-owner Julie Schneyer says the retail hiatus is not a sign of financial duress, and tells Xpress there has been no change in the group's finances. She says the collective's biggest challenge is low membership: With four co-owners and two interns, they would like to double their numbers.

“We need to be able to offer people a higher rate of compensation,” says co-owner Libertie Valance. “We need to be able to offer ourselves a higher rate of compensation. Most of us have secondary income sources. Right now, I would call this a labor of love.”

The need for more income may cause the café’s menu to change. “We are talking about moving towards a menu that focuses more on ready-made food items, which we see as a win-win, potentially, in that it will significantly reduce the amount of labor that it takes to operate the café,” Valance says.

Right now, the café serves vegan, locally sourced wraps, sandwiches, paninis and soups, but Valance and Schneyer say that many of the sandwiches could be taken off the menu because they take too long to prepare. They’re thinking about ways to cater to diners on the go, such as offering prepared salads. “We'll definitely be preparing everything in-house still,” Valance says.

The café will host already scheduled performances, meetings and film screenings during its time off, in addition to community work parties. In keeping with their focus on community-building, the collective says they welcome patrons to attend drop-in workdays on Wednesdays and Saturdays during the break. They are also looking for financial assistance. They will sell what they call a “grass-roots bond” up until their closure. Patrons who buy a gift card of $25 or more can redeem it for 110 percent of its value when the store reopens. “It's a tiny investment in coffee and books and everything else that we do,” Valance says.

Although Firestorm might look and feel a little different when it reopens, Valance and Schneyer say they're not changing their economic and philosophical commitments. “The goals are stable,” Valance says. “I think we have a set of principles that we're committed to, but the application of those goals or principals or how we seek to achieve them is open to interpretation.”

A grand reopening celebration is scheduled for Oct. 20. Learn more about their plants at firestormcafe.com/relaunch.html.

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