New independent cooperative bookstore Heartleaf Books was opened by sisters Caroline and Mads Vericker on Atwells Avenue last Wednesday. Heartleaf is a consumer and worker co-op which aims to involve community members by allowing them to purchase shares in the business and become part owners.
“We want to be a community bookstore, so we figured we’d put our money where our mouth is and actually have it be community owned,” Caroline Vericker said.
With experience as librarians, the sisters long had the goal of opening a bookstore where the community had a say in what products were sold, Mads Vericker said.
One of the seven principles of the co-op is working together as a community to lower prices and work against big companies like Amazon, Mads Vericker noted. “Especially after COVID, I think there's been a huge shift away from large corporations and instead toward smaller, locally owned mom-and-pop shops,” Caroline Vericker added.
Apart from helping with decision-making, their co-op board also helped with setting up the store and arranging the books, Mads Vericker explained.
Mads Vericker was previously a librarian at Brown, where they worked as an electronic resources specialist at the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Library. “I’m kind of a behind-the-scenes librarian, so I’ve been doing all the business-end stuff” for the store, they said.
Caroline Vericker was a public librarian in Franklin, Mass. She worked in circulation, and gained experience working with the public and keeping track of what books are popular. “So it really just made sense for us to take that knowledge and work together,” she said.
But it was a long process converting their original vision into brick and mortar, Mads Vericker said. They had been hosting pop-up stores and fundraisers throughout the last year, raising about $15,000 including member contributions. They also received a loan of $50,000 from the Cooperative Fund of the Northeast, a loan fund which helps community- and worker-oriented businesses, she said.
The sisters started out with a purchase of about 2,000 books to fill the store. They wanted to have something for everyone, Caroline Vericker said, but they also wanted to lean into the queer, artsy spirit of Providence. Their shelves are lined with a lot of “witchy and queer stuff” in addition to fiction, young adult and children’s books, she said.
The store also has a thematic book display that they plan on changing on an almost weekly basis, Caroline Vericker said. The current theme — “banned books” that have been censored throughout history — is particularly meaningful to Mads Vericker.
“Censorship is one of the reasons I got into librarianship because I just remember as a child being so frustrated that there were certain things I wasn’t allowed to read,” they said. “That’s always kind of stuck with me. I really believe in the freedom of information and being able to share and exchange ideas that maybe aren’t mainstream.”
Caroline Vericker emphasized that bookstores are important community spaces for exchanging information. “We saw that on this neighborhood, the West Side, there’s really not a lot of bookstores and libraries,” she said. “We just wanted to help fill that gap.”
Siobhan Dowd, a first-time customer at Heartleaf, said they live nearby and have been walking past the store for weeks awaiting its opening. “I was an English major (in college) and have been a book nerd since I can remember, so I was so excited to have somewhere I could walk to that seemed to have a really wide variety of left-leaning, queer and racial studies books,” she said.