With the closures in recent years of many retail book outlets, Liza Minno and Michael Newton — who own and operate Asbury Book Cooperative — strive to provide a location for customers who love to browse among shelves and tables full of their favorite hardcovers and paperbacks. “There are not a ton of bookstores in this area,” Newton said. “The fact that we are a place on the shore that does used and new books is something that sets us apart from the other places. We try to stand out as a destination for people who do love to read. It is nice to have that broad selection here.”
He added: “When I used to come to Asbury Park before I worked here, I always wanted to see a local bookstore around town and thought it would serve a purpose for people that love to read and would be a pillar of the community. This is a town that can definitely sustain a thriving bookstore.”
For Minno, there are a lot of unique pleasures afforded by a bookstore. “One thing that really sets us apart from other bookstores is that we are owned and operated as a co-op,” Minno said. “This means that people who are customers can also be members of the store by signing up for a membership. We offer many different kinds of memberships and those customers who become members can then join the board, which gets involved in different aspects of how the business is run as a whole.”
“Our business is sustained on the strength of that community,” Newton said. “You are starting to see that business model crop up in more places, especially because we are in tough economic times. It’s just a way to make things survive more easily.”
Asbury Book Cooperative offers both used and new books and the majority of its sales come from that part of the business. The new books sell at their list price and the used books are about five to ten dollars off, but members can get a special discount on top of that.
“There is a members’ newsletter that members can get that offers special sales like a members-only shopping night with extra discounts,” Minno said. “There are a lot of opportunities to get more books at a better price. When we do member events, they serve as a community building aspect for the business.
“There are also a lot of opportunities for members to get involved with the store,” Minno said. “A lot of people like to have the opportunity to help out with other events and also contribute to making decisions on the board to help the business make changes and run more effectively overall. There is a perk angle and there is a service angle. That is what the membership and co-op model provides.”
Newton believes that Cookman Avenue is one of the best streets in Monmouth County for a bookstore because there is so much foot traffic. During the summertime and wintertime, the store does the majority of its business because there is an influx of customers and people who like to read books at that time of the year.
A lot of customers are from Asbury Park, but there are also people that frequent the business from the surrounding towns. Asbury Book Cooperative appreciates the community wanting to invest in the business.
“The community does a lot to help us stay in business,” Newton said. “We have a lot of great volunteers who work in the store and serve as co-op members. Some people come in once a week or once a month for about two hours at a time. They work in the store, so that really helps us staff the store. It makes things easier and gives us room to breathe.”
Newton and Minno said they believe people are generally reading now more than ever, but many people are using smart phones and reading tablets instead of books. This phenomenon is a setback for bookstores, but Asbury Book Cooperative just goes with the flow and knows that the owners will always be around for those who still enjoy the act of reading a book.
“Especially during the pandemic, people have not been able to go out as much, so they just staying home and read there,” Newton said. “Reading, as a practice, is in a funny place right now, culturally. There are so many ways for people to access what they want to read, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Although those other options for reading will never go away any time soon, people are and have always been comforted by the experience of sitting down with their favorite book and reading to their heart’s content.”
During the pandemic, Asbury Book Cooperative went through some tough times and fought hard to keep the business afloat.
“Getting through COVID-19 was a challenge because it was a test of our cooperative model that proved the strength of that model,” Minno said. “We already had several hundred members at that point and quarantining was only beginning. We had this built-in base of support that we were able to lean on and we were able to build off of that. We strived to maintain direct relationships with our customers and members.
“We decided to offer services like free local delivery and shipping,” she added. “We were lucky to have people who were eager to show up to help us run the business and play their part. It was a challenge, but we really proved our resiliency in the end.”
Newton and Minno are look toward the future and are happy with what they have accomplished so far.
“With the cooperative model and how everything has happened so far, we want to continue this process of getting more customers to not only frequent the business, but also to continue to become members and help us out by always supporting us through thick and thin,” Minno said. “We honestly could not do what we do without being a co-op-run business and having the business be successful by maintaining that level of effort and support.”