When customers, employees and former employees packed into Firestorm Café and Books Wednesday evening, Feb. 19, for the community meeting, it was once again clear to Libertie Valance, one of Firestorm’s founders, why they had to find a new location. “All these people being here and not being able to fit just demonstrates how Firestorm needs a bigger space,” he said before the meeting began, as people struggled to find seating and standing room.
Last month, Firestorm announced that it would be closing its doors on March 1 as the workers search for a new space in West Asheville. Firestorm organized the Feb. 19 community meeting to explain the reasoning behind the move and to receive feedback from their customers about what they hope to see at the café and bookstore’s new location.
Firestorm opened on Commerce Street in May 2008 as a worker-owned coffee shop and radical bookstore, but throughout its existence has run into obstacles in its downtown location. The space is small, and not conducive to holding larger events or meetings; there is competition from several other bookstores located downtown; there is limited parking, and more.
“We’ve done our best to keep it up,” says worker Travis Schuett, “but it’s just always been not perfect.” In searching for the new location, Schuett says, the collective will take their time. “We’re not trying to jump the gun.” The collective hopes to find a new space by summertime and are looking at several locations on Haywood Road in West Asheville.
“We’re narrowing it down to a few different spots,” says worker Mira Greene.
With the new space, the collective hopes to focus more on the bookstore aspect of Firestorm, and less on the food aspect. “The café takes up a lot of time and energy so we’re toning down the food producing,” Greene says. No bookstore is currently located in West Asheville, so Firestorm would have less competition than it currently does downtown.
Furthermore, says worker Julie Schneyer, a larger space in West Asheville would allow more partnerships between Firestorm and other organizations. “We’re looking for ways to make this more of a community-powered space,” Schneyer says. “We could be partnering with other groups and projects, like Tranzmission, but we haven’t been.”
While some people at the community meeting were sad to see Firestorm leave downtown, most agreed that West Asheville is a more fitting place for the business. “I’m seeing Asheville turn the corner,” one woman who has lived in Asheville since 1975 said at the meeting. “There’s this ‘keep Asheville funky’ thing, but I think we need to focus on keeping West Asheville funky.”