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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Saturday, Nov. 1, 2014

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Board member Hannah Wallisch holds part of the dismantled Broad Vocabulary sign.

Local women work to revive Broad Vocabulary


In 2005, three Milwaukee women opened Broad Vocabulary, a feminist bookshop in Bay View. In late 2007, the women passed the torch to Jennifer Morales and Tina Owen, who purchased the store and worked hard to sustain the space. Despite their efforts, Morales and Owen decided to close the shop on Nov. 30.

"Unfortunately, because it was a business in its first year of operation, Broad Vocabulary was especially vulnerable to the economic downturn and low sales made it impossible to continue under its previous ownership structure," says Annie Weidert.

Weidert is part of a group of women that wants to reopen Broad Vocabulary as a cooperative in a new space.

Kate Scanlan, a supporter of Broad Vocabulary, organized a benefit concert on Feb. 28 at 8 p.m. at Frank's Power Plant, 2800 S. Kinnickinnic Ave., featuring the bands Plexi 3, International Date Lines, Pigs On Ice and Exotic Matter. The cover is $8 and includes a potluck dinner and raffle with items donated by local businesses.

Recently, OnMilwaukee.com checked in with Weidert to find out if Milwaukee will soon have a feminist bookshop again.

OnMilwaukee.com: What's the current status of Broad Vocabulary?

Annie Weidert: For the past few months, a core group of us have continued to meet, to seek advice and input from the community about what they would like to see for the future of the store, and to learn more about how we can successfully make this happen.

In November we officially incorporated as "A Broader Vocabulary Cooperative" -- the name of the store itself will remain the same -- and held a "Phoenix Rising" fundraiser and first-memberships drive during the weekend the store finally closed its doors. The proceeds enabled us to make an offer to purchase Broad Vocabulary's inventory.

OMC: How much money do you hope / need to raise?

AW: Our goal is currently to raise a minimum of 2-3 months of operating expenses -- $10,000-$15,000 -- before we reopen the store, so continuing to fundraise and build our membership base are top priorities.

OMC: Who are the people behind this effort? Are Jennifer and Tina involved?

AW: While not involved with the coop, Tina and Jennifer are supportive of our efforts and want to see us succeed in helping Broad Vocabulary live on for the Milwaukee community.

The coop is currently being "midwived" by a group of six women serving as a temporary board. In addition, we are receiving the support and guidance of a variety of local coops, small businesses, community activists, wise souls and otherwise talented folks who share our hopes and have offered their knowledge and expertise.

OMC: Are you planning to change locations? If so, any idea where?

AW: Yes, in fact the store's inventory has already been moved out of the old location.

This decision to move was made for a few reasons: First, we were not prepared to begin incurring rent and utility expenses right away, which would have been necessary to hold on to the previous location, while at the same time trying to raise enough money for start-up costs.

Trying to keep the store in Bay View, which currently has no other bookstore left, let alone an independent one, is certainly a consideration. We are also open to looking at spaces in other neighborhoods.

OMC: How will the new Broad Vocabulary be different?

AW: We are restructuring the store's leadership such that it will be owned and operated collectively by its community of supporters, its members. Collectively we have more time, talents, skills and ideas to draw upon.

Especially under the current economic circumstances, with even large bookstore chains like Borders running into trouble, we realize that no business can expect to survive on books alone. We are looking at ways to diversify both the store's income sources as well as its offerings to the community.

It is very important to us that we maintain Broad Vocabulary's proud feminist, progressive roots and mission, which has allowed it to provide a unique space that is valued by many in the Milwaukee community.

OMC: What is the timeframe for the new Broad Vocabulary?

AW: We would like to see the store be able to open on a scale of months, but most important to us is taking the time necessary to plan and organize carefully, to raise adequate funds and to assemble the people power that will set ourselves up for success once the store opens. A lot depends on how fast we are able to fundraise, build our membership and find the right location.


Talkbacks

co-op lover | Jan. 19, 2009 at 12:11 p.m. (report)

One of the key differences for the new Broad Vocabulary is that it will be organized as a co-op, not just a straight up for-profit business. It's being created by a community, therefore already will start with a wide base of stake holders.

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bethefuture | Jan. 19, 2009 at 11:33 a.m. (report)

Did you read the article on Schwartz? They said that small bookstores that focus on community needs are what it will take to succeed. Instead of blindly comparing them to a company that is failing you should get your facts straight. These girls are putting in a lot of effort in order to save the last southside bookstore. You should be thankful people are out there trying to make a difference.

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remedy | Jan. 19, 2009 at 10:58 a.m. (report)

yup, agreed. as if this will succeed. if Schwartz couldn't last, no way this does.

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High_Life_Man | Jan. 17, 2009 at 3:45 p.m. (report)

Good luck. But honestly, why bother? In this economy, there's no doubt that in 6 to 12 months, you'll be posting an article on how this latest reincarnation is closing.

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