Building a Better Red Emma's

Our collectively-owned radical bookstore & cafe in Baltimore is expanding for the first time in eight years, and we need your help!

Red Emma's is expanding—and we need your help!

After 8 years in the storefront at 800 Saint Paul, Red Emma's has decided it's time to move: our current space just isn't big enough to hold all the things we want to collectively make it do.

Over the past eight years, we've hosted a thousand public events, created two new radical spaces (2640 and the Baltimore Free School), organized international conferences, built an amazing annual radical bookfair, and served as a hub knitting together Baltimore's different politically engaged communities, all the while keeping a collectively-owned and operated business open just about 365 days a year.

You can see our whole history laid out on this interactive timeline.

Timeline Preview

Now just think about what we're going to do when we have the space to really get to work.

In the new space

We've just signed a lease for the fall of 2013; located at 30 West North Avenue, next door to Liam Flynn's Ale House (itself started by founding Red Emma's collective members!), the new space will be over five times the size of our current location. 

We'll be expanding our food operation to a full kitchen, moving beyond our current limited cafe menu to really let some of the culinary talent we've got in the collective shine.  And we'll be doing this in a way that makes extensive use of locally sourced agricultural products while keeping prices affordable: healthy, sustainable food should be the norm, not a luxury.

We'll be increasing the footprint of our bookstore sixfold—space constraints alone have prevented us from building the world class selection we've dreamed of, and the new space will make it possible to really build the kind of radical bookstore Baltimore deserves.

Our coffee is about to get a lot more exciting: we're bringing on board new local roaster Thread Coffee as a partner on the new project; not only will we be roasting coffee in-house, but we'll be using directly fair traded coffee from cooperatives in the global South. 

The space is going to be far more welcoming; not only are we going to vastly expand the number of seats, we'll also be full-accessible in the new space (a compromise we had to make with our current location that's always been pretty troubling for us as a collective!)!

Plus! The Baltimore Free School is moving with us! The new Red Emma's space will offer a meeting and classroom space coordinated by the BFS collective, allowing us to offer free, year-round educational programming, as well as a space for groups to meet (with optional catering by Red Emma's) for reasonable rates.

And most importantly, scaling up is going to let us do something we've always dreamt of: pay the people working on the project a living wage. Our current storefront has never been big enough to reach the economies of scale we would have needed to keep funding our political mission and also pay ourselves something sustainable for the long-term; most of us work on a volunteer basis right now, and those of us who do get paid don't get much. With the new space, our plan is to start with a living wage and work our way up from there.   

A not-so-small piece of the world we wish to see

Our hope is that when we reopen in this new space—paying long-term sustainable wages in a democratically structured workplace, engaging on a daily basis with a sustainable food politics that doesn't take your whole paycheck, and providing a massively visible space for organizing and activism at the geographic heart of the city—we will be a living example that a different kind of Baltimore is possible.  

While we've been thrilled to demonstrate that you could run a space and a project like ours, and do all that we have done, without bosses, entirely through directly democratic consensus-based decision-making, we're excited to scale this up and show that you can do this and pay the bills at the same time.  When we opened eight years ago, we knew a lot about books and politics, but very little about running a real collective business.  Today, we're ready to rebuild our project on a much more long-term sustainable economic basis.  And paying a living wage (or better) is important for more reasons than being able to keep this up without burning out: we've found it to be one of the biggest factors preventing people of different ages and backgrounds becoming part of the project.   

Our plan and your help

Between renovations, equipment purchases, licensing, and other fees, we need roughly $250,000 to open this new space; we're hoping to raise at least $50,000 through crowdfunding on this site, but the more we can raise here the less debt we will start off with in the new space.  While the funds we raise here and elsewhere are crucial, there's going to be all sorts of opportunities to pitch in to help us get the new space off the ground in other ways as we get closer to opening.  Keep up with the status of the project by following us on Twitter, liking us on Facebook, or subscribing to our mailing list.


Team on This Campaign: