Can co-op keep popular bookshop alive?
The Book Worm owner proposes transforming store into cooperative owned by shareholders.
Aiming to retire, The Book Worm owner Susan Smelser hopes to form a co-op to keep the shop going.
By Kristal Dixon


A Powder Springs business owner is ready to hang up her hat but does not want Cobb County to lose another independent bookstore. 

The Book Worm owner Susan Smelser has floated an interesting proposition to her customers: Transform the popular bookstore into a cooperative owned by shareholders. Smelser has held a series of meetings with interested residents on how the co-op idea could work.

About 50 people have already pledged that they want to become shareholders, but Smelser said they will need a lot more for the business to continue running.

Smelser, who is also a member of the Powder Springs Downtown Development Authority, said she has received a lot of questions and interest in the proposal.

“It would be sad to lose the bookstore because there are not that many bookstores around in general,” she said.

Smelser said she’s had a few offers to buy her bookstore over the years, but they ran into the problem of banks not wanting to invest in bookstores. The co-op model will provide “more hands on deck” to help keep the store open for the thousands of people who view The Book Worm as their community center.

“This may be the answer for a lot of small bookstores to continue to be in the business,” she said of the cooperative model.

The Book Worm at 4451 Marietta St. serves as the center of activity in downtown Powder Springs. The 14-year old store, which offers used and new books for sale, is also home to the city’s farmers market and regularly hosts book signings. The store has been around since many downtown businesses were vacant but will soon be central to a revitalized downtown.

In April the city began a project to replace the old town square with a new park, featuring a pedestrian mall, children’s play area, a performance stage and water sculpture.

The longtime Country Store at 4455 Marietta St. is set to be revamped to house retail, storage and woodworking uses. Railcat Brewing Co., the first brewery for Powder Springs, is scheduled to open nearby next year at 3886 Broad St.

If it’s successful, the bookstore co-op model would involve shareholders all owning a piece of The Book Worm. Those shareholders would elect a board of directors, which would hire a manager to oversee the day-to-day operations of the business. Smelser said the amount each shareholder would need to pitch in has not been determined.

Any profits generated would be reinvested in the store, and any remaining funds would be paid back to the shareholders. Smelser said the only difference in this model would be the store having more owners, which means additional opportunities for the store to host more events, stay open longer and even open a coffee shop. The paid staff would remain in place, but the owners might also volunteer their time.

To ensure a smooth transition into a co-op, Smelser has reached out to her brother, Mark Fearer, for help. Fearer, a member of the steering committee organizing the move, said he has experience with co-ops in the past and wanted to lend his support to Smelser.

The steering committee has looked for businesses that have a similar model for research purposes, but Fearer said it is “coming up short.” If the committee moves forward, the next step in the process would be to create a board of directors that would begin collecting shares.

National industry watchers are also interested in Smelser’s proposed conversion to see if it’s something that could be replicated elsewhere. There are only a handful of bookstore co-ops around the country.

“This is a way for the community to become owners of the bookstore and ensure its survival,” Fearer said.

One of those people who had to close up shop was Elaine Koziatek, who owned The Book Stop on Atlanta Road in Smyrna until it closed in March after 11 years of business. Now a Book Worm employee, Koziatek said she loves bookstores, but what she admires about The Book Worm is the depth of genres Smelser has amassed over the years. She’s also been able to offer audiobooks and establish an online presence, Koziatek said.

Koziatek is such a believer in the store that she has already committed to buying shares in The Book Worm, which she said is an “intrinsic part of the community.”

“It would be sad to see no bookstore in Powder Springs,” she said.

Smelser said she hopes the community will rally around her store. With 9,500 people who shop with the store on a regular basis, Smelser is hopeful she can get enough people who are committed to seeing the business thrive, despite the rise of Amazon and its relentless chipping away at bookstores just like hers.

“We need many hands to make light work,” she said.

“We are just encouraging people to leave a legacy for their children.”

‘We need many hands to make light work. We are just encouraging people to leave a legacy for their children.’ Susan Smelser The Book Worm owner