Our History…Chris Chiu and People’s Books
The story of People’s Books began in 1974, when an ambitious man named
Chris Chiu founded the store with a typewriter, a few book catalogs, and loans
from his closest friends. Chris ran the store by himself for thirty-three years,
occasionally moving, until finally settling in at the current location.
While the store started with humble beginnings, Chris tirelessly worked to build up a wide
selection of books and to nurture relationships with customers, members of the community,
and a multitude of progressive organizations . Along the way, he mastered the timeless art of book
buying. He also wrote his own computer program to track everything from books,
to publishers, to customers, and this program is still used today.
People’s gained a reputation during this time not only for its wide selection of
books, but also as a community space and resource. Chris opened up the store for
all manner of events including classes, movies, regular community
gatherings, as well as a meeting place for organizations without a space of their own.
Among these was the New Year’s Day Open House that Chris hosted annually and
is still maintained as a regular tradition by People’s Books Cooperative.
During these years, People’s Books gained a loyal following and thrived despite the
challenges of operating in an economic environment dominated by corporate big box
stores and more recently by web-based retailers.
Chris succeeded for so many years, without benefiting from the
economies of scale that larger stores enjoyed, precisely because of this loyal
following and the fact that for many regular customers, People’s was much more
than just a store. This made it all the more unsettling when Chris announced in 2007 that he
was closing the store and retiring. He planned to move his stock to a barn owned
by local friends, and sell his books online. Luckily, that is not how the story ends…
The Present…People’s Books Cooperative
When Chris announced his plans to retire and close the store in 2007, many
dedicated customers feared the loss of what had become a local institution. When
two of these customers approached Chris with the idea of transforming People’s
Books into a community-owned and cooperatively-run company, he agreed to
help, offering to assist them in getting in touch with other customers who might be willing to join in their efforts.
In early summer 2007 a core group was formed and People’s Books
Cooperative (PBC) was born. These book lovers devoted their time and energy to
formalizing the community that had sustained People’s Books for so many years.
In addition to recruiting new members, these volunteers spent countless hours researching and discussing
bylaws, cooperative structure, and strategies for growth. They
were assisted in their efforts by members of other local cooperatives, including
Riverwest Co-op and Rainbow Bookstore Cooperative (Madison,WI.) They were also helped
immensely by Chris Chiu, who not only shared knowledge and expertise but also helped PBC
materially through a generous loan and an arrangement whereby the cooperative
continued to sell the amazing stock of texts he had built up over the years.
On September 1, 2007, People’s Books Cooperative was officially incorporated
and began operating on an all volunteer basis. Since then, PBC has continued to
develop thanks to hundreds of members and volunteers who have contributed
their knowledge, labor, and passion over the years. In addition to expanding
textbook sales and exploring other ways to increase revenue, PBC staff and
volunteers have tirelessly worked to broaden the focus beyond the bookstore.
Remaining true to the principles of cooperation, they have worked to ensure that
People’s will continue to serve the community for years to come.