The many fans of Antigone Books can put their fears to rest. The store will not be taken over by a chain. Three young employees of the popular indie Fourth Avenue bookstore have won a loan from the Small Business Administration to buy the business.
"These three women are smart, passionate and hardworking," says Kate Randall, who with Trudy Mills has operated the 45-year-old store for the last 30 years and owned it for 28. "They have what it takes. They're also community-minded and they really care about independent bookstores and local businesses. We're really excited."
Mills and Randall bought the business in 1990 and have run it ever since. They put it up for sale nearly two years ago.
The three purchasers, Morgan Miller, Kate Stern and Melissa Negelspach, who've collectively racked up 15 years working in the store, expect to take ownership in May.
Earlier this week the trio celebrated raising more than $32,000 to seal the deal via a crowdfunding effort on Indiegogo. The effort launched on last Thursday, April 19, and by Monday, April 23, they had surpassed their goal.
"We are floored by how quickly Tucsonans, book lovers, friends, and family have rallied to support us," they wrote in an update to supporters. "We have the best community, and we will do all that we can to be good caretakers of this bookstore that you know and love."
That money will go a long way to ensuring a successful transfer. The SBA loan is in place, but it comes with upfront costs, the three report on their site. And with plans to take possession of the store in the slow retail season beginning in May, they also need start-up capital to make sure they can pay the staff from day one and continue buying inventory.
The Indiegogo effort will continue into May and the new owners say that "any additional contributions will help us pay off our loans more quickly and launch this business into a healthy future, but please know that thanks to your help we are now able to buy the store!"
They're already familiar with Antigone's business procedures. Miller, who holds an MFA in creative writing from the UA, has trained under Mills as the store's book buyer and took over the job last fall. She's been with Antigone three years.
Ten-year Antigone veteran Negelspach has learned the ropes of the lucrative gift section of the store from Randall. Currently the assistant buyer, she'll move up to the chief gift buyer. And Kate Stern, a two-year employee, is already the event planner, a job crucial to Antigone's trademark array of book readings, book clubs, parties and partnerships with The Loft Cinema and the Food Conspiracy Co-op.
"As Fourth Avenue continues to change and grow, the three of us are committed to protecting what makes this neighborhood special, worthwhile, and local," the trio write on their site. "With high rises being built at either end of the avenue and corporate businesses being opened Downtown, we cannot take for granted that Fourth Avenue will always be the down-to-earth, community-oriented neighborhood it is today. We must continue to support businesses like Antigone."
Mills says she couldn't be happier. "To pass the business on to three young women who will maintain the spirit of Antigone Books, even as they bring new ideas and youthful energy to the running of the store, is a dream come true."
Mills and Randall will retain ownership of the building. Mills plans to stay on a month after the sale is complete and then retire, while Randall will step down and become an employee.
"Maybe you'll even see me at the cash register," she says with a laugh.
The store, 411 N. Fourth Ave., will throw a party on Saturday, April 28, to promote the fundraising campaign. While Antigone will be celebrating Independent Bookstore Day with food and prizes all day from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., the attention will turn to Miller, Stern and Negelspbach at 2 p.m.
Mills and Randall will introduce the trio of prospective owners, and fete them with a cake and gift certificate raffles. All profits earned throughout the day will be donated to the women that Mills and Randall call the "soon-to-be-owners."