Firestorm Café and Books will close its doors March 1 but not for good. The worker-owned business is simply on the market for a new space. According to Travis Schuett, who has been with Firestorm for two-and-a-half years, the café’s downtown space at 48 Commerce St. is no longer working out.
“Our original passions in opening were to provide a free meeting space for grassroots organizations to hold meetings and workshops,” Schuett says. In addition to providing a space for groups, Firestorm also has an extensive collection of radical books for sale. “In navigating the balance between the space and fulfilling those dreams, we have continually run up against some obstacles, location being a big part of that.”
The workers of Firestorm wanted to keep the co-op’s focus on their bookstore and the educational component of its community space, but many felt that food preparation in particular was detracting from these projects. “We had more of a lunch menu and it was working out, but it was not where our passion was lying,” Schuett says. So, the collective decided to significantly pare down their menu about a year and a half ago — no more soups or paninis, but still coffee and teas. This change also coincided with the remodeling of the space to accommodate more books.
But even after revamping the space, Firestorm still experienced other obstacles: limited parking; strong competition from numerous other downtown bookstores; limited space for events; an underwhelming store front, and more. After a year and a half of meetings, the collective finally decided that the downtown location was significantly hindering their goals.
The café and bookstore plans to relocate to West Asheville, in a larger space that provides more parking spaces, for example, in the hopes that it will become more of a destination for travelers. “We offer a specialized selection of books,” Schuett says. “Within the Southeastern region, you can’t get books like you can here. When you’re attracting people that are traveling it’s necessary to have parking. [Limited parking] has hindered us both in events and accessing a traveling community.”
The collective has not yet found the right spot to accommodate their needs and desires, so Firestorm will temporarily have no store front, but the worker-owners hope to open the doors of their new location by mid-summer. “We’re taking time to evaluate and find the perfect space for us,” Schuett says. “Especially after experiencing being here after five years and realizing how much the location has shaped our day to day operations, we want to focus on finding the perfect space.”
Firestorm will host a community meeting in the café Wednesday, Feb. 12, at 7 p.m. to discuss some of the changes, and to also seek out feedback for their anti-oppression policy, which the co-op recently drafted.
According to Firestorm worker-owner Julie Schneyer, the decision to move to West Asheville has been met with positive responses. But one of the most common questions asked is what the worker-owners will do in the meantime without a store front. “Us closing for a few months, it seems so impossible for a business to do that,” says Schneyer, “but we’re not a traditional business.”