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No more Food for Thought

They gave it their best shot. Sadly, they came up short. Members of the Food for Thought Books Collective cut costs, reduced space, diversified offerings, imposed event fees and sought help from financial experts, lawyers and supporters.

But despite waves of love from the community — including $40,000 in donations raised in just a few months — the collective closed the downtown Amherst store for good last week. A 37-year run of offering books on progressive and social justice causes and providing community space to groups marginalized because of their race, sexual orientation, gender or ethnicity is over.

The closure leaves a void that will be hard to fill.

Max Page, a UMass professor who said the shop helped foster his political leanings and intellectual curiosity when he was a teen, lamented its passing. “Although I grew up in a liberal household, I hadn’t encountered the people I saw on those bookshelves,” he told reporter Scott Merzbach.

Food for Thought is the latest in a long line of independent book stores in Amherst to lose the battle against online booksellers and digital books. Jeffery Amherst Books, Goliard Books and Valley Books have all given up in recent years. And The Good Faith Bookstore, a religious bookshop formerly known as LAOS, has downsized, leaving Amherst Books on Main Street as the last full-time book seller in town.

Though many express regret over the demise of the independents, price and convenience win in the marketplace, a point proven time and again despite the value of personal service and community consciousness.

In the case of Food for Thought, there were many people willing to go beyond lip service and open their wallets to prop up the struggling enterprise. Collective members began a public appeal for help last summer, saying they were drowning in debt.

Volunteers, whom they had long counted on, redoubled their commitment. Landlord Barry Roberts lowered the rent and then supported the collective’s need to give up half the space and run a slimmer operation. Donations poured in at the end of 2013, allowing store managers to start the year with optimism.

But book sales just kept getting worse, despite price cuts to rival online discounts. Attempts to get a line of credit to manage and consolidate debts failed and the monetary gifts were used to pay bills and make payroll, until they couldn’t do that anymore. At the end, volunteers were heading off to other summertime endeavors and the two part-time employees could no longer work for free. Legal and financial advisers said it was time to go.

Maybe the collective’s leaders should have pulled the plug sooner, before amassing $40,000 from loyal supporters. Those who gave likely thought their money would buy more than a few months. But it’s hard to give up on a long-time institution that began with idealism in 1976 and, for so many years, provided alternatives coveted here.

There is already talk of a new downtown cafe located nearby providing space for the types of events hosted by Food for Thought, such as open mics, poetry readings and art exhibits. But the shop will be hard to replace.

Mitch Gaslin, who once served as a co-manager at the collective and is the business manager at Odyssey Bookshop in South Hadley, knows how hard it is to swim upstream. “It’s a sad thing,” he said, “and really unfortunate for the town.” We agree.

Legacy Comments5

Scooch you know I am more urban than you are. I've been to every gay bar in Manhattan in the 15 years I lived down there. Have you? I doubt it babe. I've been to The Stonewall, The Duplex, The Townhouse, The Monster, The Web, The Bar, One Potatoe Two Potatoe, Eighty Eights, Boots and Saddles, Splash, The G Lounge..... Did I mention Stonewall? I am probalbly more big city than you ever dreamed of. You're from the west coast - Idaho I think you said, to me thats backwards by nature. Actually heres a link to an apartment I was thinking to buy in NYC but it was $420,000 for a studio. Just too much but it was lovely. Do you like it? The lady who was the real estate agent actually graduated from Umass/Amherst - small world - we talked about N'ton when she showed it to me. The president of Corcoran went to Umass also. This is actually not the exact apartment. I wanted 14F but these pictures are close enough. If you look at the first picture just over the balcony you can see the exit ramp from the Queensboro Bridge (I think its called the Ed Koch bridge now - another closeted politician - like Hillary Clinton) . It might be a little noisy in the morning with all the bridge traffic. I told the real estate agent I wanted to pay less than $300/sq/ft. They laughed at me. http://www.corcoran.com/nyc/Listings/Display/2330437

Gary, my dear, the sign of a true rube is an anxiety that never goes away, and that makes someone indignantly go into a laundry list of the places that they've visited during their 15 years in Manhattan. Makes you sound like another of those classic transplants for whom living in Manhattan is an achievement in and of itself. Do you feel like you can make it anywhere, or did you not quite make it there? Anyway, I really only know your internet avatar. And by referring to you (it?) as a small town troll, I just meant the fact that you can muster enough shock value to get a rise out of the local readership of something like the gazette, but would probably get drowned out by the level of nastiness that the REAL cybertrash bring to things like CNN.com or the other places you'd have to turn to when your wish about the gazette's demise comes true. Frankly, you're downright polite compared to the comments that come up on masslive. But thanks for personalizing my comment (again, those anxieties of yours) and giving us this silly little performance. I really do feel sad for you.

Not that facts matter to you, Gary, but Fox and MSNBC were both launched in 1996. And the web site you cite has a motto that might explain your analysis: NewsBusters- Exposing and Combating Liberal Media Bias.

I think this says something about the whole progressive movement. MSNBC has been in business much longer than Fox News and yet it has ratings that double when I occasionally watch it. Air America went out of business because nobody listened to it. Current TV was sold by Al Gore to an oil kingdom for hundreds of millions of dollars and was relaunched as Al Jezeera America. People have a problem being lectured too by activists on the left. After enough subscribers to the Gazette are insulted by the editorial page and cancel their subsriptions someday the Gazette will be going out of business too. From yesterdays headlines : Poll: MSNBC Least Trusted TV News Source, Fox News Most Trusted Read more: http://newsbusters.org/blogs/randy-hall/2014/06/10/poll-msnbc-least-trusted-tv-news-source-fox-news-most-trusted#ixzz34SUvKNuZ

But gary, when the gazette goes out of business, what will be your outlet to the outside world? You're just a small town troll that would have a hard time competing for attention with the big boy trolls on other online media. I'll be very sad for you when the gazette goes under.

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