Whether you are more familiar with the Yellowstone Valley or the Bitterroot, it is time to welcome two new co-ops that soon will open their doors for business in Montana.
This House of Books, the new Billings bookstore cooperative, is in the process of filling its shelves with a collection of works by Montana and regional authors, including Ivan Doig, who inspired the name of the store with his autobiography, “This House of Sky.” Carrie La Seur, one of the founding members of the co-op who was recently elected board president, , says the whole idea for the project “arose out of a longing for a great independent bookstore” that was “locally owned and operated.” La Seur and other organizers wanted to build community ownership in the business and she adds, “It made a lot of sense to use a cooperative model, so, we [bookstore member-owners] will all have a piece of the bookstore.” In the age of online media, the challenges of owning and managing an independent bookstore can be daunting to a single entrepreneur, acknowledges La Seur.
“I think there are actually a lot of people in Billings who would really love to own a bookstore, but it’s an enormous lift for one person or a couple of people. This way, we all get a little piece of the bookstore and it’s not too much for one person to carry.” According to La Seur, local authors from across the state and region have been very supportive of the venture. She notes, “There are so many Montana writers all over the state. It is a very literary place with a lot of great writers,” and many of them have already purchased a share in the bookstore. La Seur envisions the bookstore will be a place where these authors can meet with readers, sign their books, and tell their stories. Although the co-op bookstore is not yet officially open, organizers will be hosting an open house this Thursday, June 30 from 5-7 pm at their future location in the old Wendy’s Restaurant in Downtown Billings.
As This House of Books plans its grand opening for later this summer, another cooperative business will soon fire up the kilns in Western Montana. In July, Clay Works! in the Bitterroot will open its cooperative studios to member artists and ceramic hobbyists in Hamilton. Members of the cooperative will be able to rent equipment and share studio space to fulfill their creative passions. Classes will be offered to any interested member who has newly taken up pottery or those more experienced ceramists who wish to refine their skills.
“We felt the cooperative business model was a better fit with our mission of providing a creative workspace for ceramic artists to come and share equipment, materials, skills and experience,” explains steering committee member, Robin Ireland. She adds that the co-op “keeps the power of the business in the hands of the member-owners.” Ireland considers herself as a student of the ceramic arts and says she and other members are personally invested in the success of Clay Works! According to Ireland, the co-op will be open seven days a week for members to learn from one another while fostering professional and personal relationships. Future plans include opening a gallery for ceramists to showcase their self-expression and sell their works of art. Clay Works! officially launches on July 8 with an open house held from 6-8 pm during the downtown’s Hamilton Tonight festivities.