Octopus Books is a small business that used to be run as a collective. We were asked recently whether our progressive values were still intact or whether they had changed.
It's a good question.
The song remains the same. Octopus values and practices haven’t really changed that much, even if the ownership structure has. We try out new book sections as issues change, and we work together to pull events and other activities together.
By and large, we make decisions collectively, and although there are fewer of us than the Collective's heydays, we feel like we’re carrying on the Octopus tradition of collective operation, if not collective ownership.
Owner Lisa Greaves has been around Octopus for almost 20 years. She has seen a lot of changes in the store since 1994 when she got active in the old collective. The values remain a guiding principle, she says.
“Many of the decisions we make would not be made by a business that had profit as it's main motive,” she says, frankly. “We regularly stock books that we won't make much money on. We host events we will lose money on. We keep staff on when we can't afford to – and all this is part of the philosophy of “business as unusual” and the legacy that we inherited.”
This might seem like a dangerous strategy – after all, aren’t businesses supposed to fail if they don’t put profit first? Especially these days, when independent bookstores are falling like rain?
Well, we’d be the first to say that small, independent bookstores need to create multiple streams of revenue. This is why we sell books and course-packs to university students. And this is why we hold so many events, to create opportunities for more sales and to build partnership with progressive organizations.
But our business as unusual ethic has kept this place going for over 43 years now. Building community has always been at the heart of our store. And the work of building community is never done!