President Obama’s co-op connection

President-elect Barack Obama has given a struggling Chicago book store co-operative a massive boost after being revealed as a regular customer and member.

The Seminary Co-op, managed by 62-year-old Jack Cella, has been a radiant cultural presence in the Chicago area since it was established in 1961, but 2008 brought a distinct upgrade in its profile when it emerged that Mr Obama and his family are frequent visitors to the store, which is only about half a mile from their home.

According to Los Angeles Times reporter Julia Keller, Mr Obama joined the co-op in 1986, and he and his wife and children shop there frequently.

The newspaper reports that the store is “a series of forking, book-lined paths that wind around through room after room after room, and each subsequent area brims with amazing volumes”.

It adds: “There is a philosophy room, a religion room, a history room, a language room and on and on it goes — an enchanted forest of multi-coloured spines and preoccupied customers.”

Says Ms Keller: “The co-op has about 53,000 members, all of whom joined by buying at least three shares, at $10 a share. Members get a ten per cent discount on whatever they buy and, occasionally, a dividend at year’s end. Nobody joins to get rich — at least, not in material ways. They join because they appreciate the co-op’s devotion to offering the very latest in academic publishing as well as the enduring classics.”

In 2007, the three stores in the co-operative racked up about $6 million in sales, with about $4.5 million of that coming from the Seminary Co-op.

“This past summer was difficult,” says Mr Cella. But he remains optimistic — and not just because the store expects to get a lot of mail-order requests from the new residents of the White House.

“What gives me hope about the future is meeting first-year students. They are very interested in books and value them as part of their education. A book store can be so stimulating. I can’t imagine life without reading.”

In this article

Join the Conversation