Firestorm Café and Books is coming back with a bang — revamped, refurbished — and in West Asheville.
Soon to be located at 610 Haywood Road (formerly home to Pro Bikes), Firestorm Café and Books originally opened downtown in March 2008 in the Commerce Street space now occupied by the new Ethiopian restaurant Addissae. In April 2014, Firestorm’s worker-owners closed its downtown location to carry out a new vision for the cooperative business.
Before even leaving the old space, says Libertie Valance, one of five current worker-owners at Firestorm, “we knew we were going to Haywood Road. … We were very set on the Haywood Road corridor as our future location and community. That was a deliberate, long-time plan. It was what we needed to do to make Firestorm a viable, sustainable project.”
And the co-op’s owners were trying to figure out “where it would make the most sense to open a bookstore. Our old space was kind of more of a café, and so the Haywood corridor was a slam-dunk. Our community is already here, and it’s really local-oriented, as opposed to downtown.”
Haywood lacks a wide-variety bookstore, Valance explains, which is what Firestorm owners say they are striving to become.
“We’ll still have the café,” says Lauren Lockamy, another worker-owner. “We’ll still do specialty espressos, and we’ll still have sandwiches and bagels.”
But, adds worker-owner Mira Greene, “we’re kind of scaling [the café aspect] back. The bookstore is something that we’re more excited about. I think we really pride ourselves on our selection, which tends to get a lot of positive feedback. And for me, that’s the most interesting part of the project — but it gets overshadowed by the café.”
Currently, the store and cafe is known for its more “radical” literature, Valance adds. “But things that we consider radical may be sustainable living and herbalism — very ‘back to basic,’ in line with Asheville’s vibe.”
With the expansion, Firestorm co-op owners say they plan to revamp their selection to incorporate a wide variety of topics to suit everyone’s taste — fiction, psychology and a more expansive childrens’ section.
“As [part of] a family-oriented neighborhood, we’ll put a strong focus on kids,” Valance says. “But not just having the literature, but a space that’s welcoming and accessible to families.”
And to jumpstart the new location, Firestorm worker-owners are asking Asheville for help. They’ve set up an Indiegogo crowd-funding campaign to support the expanded vision for the store — which includes the addition of a quality meeting and event space for community organizations.
“The majority of our funding is coming through a couple of different lenders,” says Greene — to be specific, Mountain BizWorks and the Northcountry Cooperative Development Fund. But the co-op owners are looking for around 20 percent — about $10,000 — from the community.
Money raised will go toward projectors, audio-visual equipment, a Xerox machine and more — all available for community use. “I think this is going to open up some great new opportunities,” Valance says. “Having a really comfortable and attractive space with a lot of natural light and infrastructural resources to share with other community groups.”
And for Asheville aesthetics, Lockamy adds, “one of the most exciting [crowd-funded projects] is the mural on the State Street side of the building, across from Sunny Point.” Though they have yet to pick an artist (and the artist will be allowed plenty of room for creative freedom), themes they’re looking at for the mural include books, cooperation, activism and anarchism, steampunk and nature.
The rest of the money will go to necessities, so the group will “basically be able to get our doors open — painting the inside of the building, hardware, comfortable seating to add that bookstore touch.
“Hopefully, [we’ll open] by May if everything goes smoothly,” Lockamy says. “But no promises! Like I said, we keep running into new things every day.”
To the worker-owners of Firestorm and their supporters, it’s more than just a bookstore and café.
“Firestorm has always been a labor of love,” says Valance. “None of us are really doing it for the paycheck. We’re there for the right reasons, or whatever, but we need to sustain our involvement long-term. And that’s part of why ‘who Firestorm is’ [has changed so much] over the last six years. We need to work on the store, but also nourish and sustain the people who make Firestorm happen on the inside.”
And they say with the new, bigger space, they hope that dream come true.
“I didn’t go into Firestorm trying to find a place of fulfillment in my work,” Lockamy says. “But that’s kind of what it became.”