Antwerp LGBTQIA+ bookshop Kartonnen Dozen is looking for a second – actually a third – breath. Once started as Boekhandel ‘t Verschil (‘Bookshop The Difference’), current iteration Kartonnen Dozen (‘Carboard Boxes’) is looking for a kickstart.
The issue? There are two. Kartonnen Dozen has to move shop, literally. The premises are being sold and the business needs a new place from October 2022. Secondly, current manager Johanna Pas (52) is ill and she can’t keep doing this. She has a business partner, Ulka Delbroek (37), but Delbrook needs help.
So, Kartonnen Dozen is looking to change its legal status. From a besloten vennootschap (BV, plc in English) to a coöperatieve vennootschap (CV, cooperative society in English).
Kartonnen Dozen offers two ways to support their business and mission.
Option 1: shareholder
As a cooperant (shareholder) you buy one or more shares of the cooperative. One share has an issue price of 50 euros. “Enter your details here and deposit an amount of at least 50 euros or a multiple thereof (100, 150, etc. if you want to buy more than 1 share) to our account number: BE04 3200 3922 2931 (BIC: BBRUBEBB), stating your first name + surname + COOPERANT KADO (this is the account number of the BV that operates Kartonnen Dozen today).”
As soon as the cooperative has been established, you will receive a share and your share will be registered in the shareholders’ register. As a cooperative, you receive a discount on in-store purchases. The discount is a form of dividend and depends on the profit made)
“The realisation of our goal is more important than the creation of financial added value. First our goal and then the profit. Starting from one share you acquire a say in the cooperative. Subscribing to more than one share does not give you more say or dividend and is therefore mainly used as support.”
“If we do not collect sufficient funds or if the restart of Kartonnen Dozen proves to be unfeasible for whatever reason, the amount will be refunded to you in full.”
Option 2: as a sympathizer
As a sympathizer you can make a donation without acquiring shares or offer any form of assistance such as help with the search for a new location, help with the move, the furnishing of our new building, etc.
“Enter your details here and tell us how you can help. Do you want to make a financial donation? Enter your details here and deposit an amount of your choice into our account number: BE04 3200 3922 2931 (BIC: BBRUBEBB), stating your first name + last name + GIFT KADO.”
“If we do not collect enough resources or if the restart of Kartonnen Dozen proves to be unfeasible for whatever reason, we transfer the amount to a goal that is in line with our mission and vision.”
Bound to happen?
Johanna Pas’ health aside, was the demise of Kartonnen Dozen bound to happen? In France, Paris LGBTQIA+ bookshop Les Mots à la Bouche faced and faces the same challenges.
Pas and Delbrook hope not.
“We are more than necessary in this rapidly changing society”, Johanna says, talking to Geert De Weyer, in an interview for De Morgen on 25 July.
“From our inception in 1996 to 2010, we had very good years”, Johanna says. Pas started as salesperson at ‘t Verschil. It combined bookshop with a coffee corner and also had a large collection of DVDs. There even was an underwear shop for a while, De Onderkant.
“Until suddenly three aspects threw a spanner in the works: the economic crisis, the collapse of the DVD market and the rise of the internet and web shops. Not that we weren’t alert; for example, we already had a webshop in 1997 – quite early. Our turnover was even large, until the major web shop players flooded the market with much cheaper deliveries. Then it was over.”
Johanna sees a fourth, a deeper factor. “The sudden change in the idea of what an LGBTQ+ community was.”
It’s hard to explain, Johana says. “But the bottom line is that solidarity in our community came to a halt around 2005.”
Now that is a bold statement.
The acceptance of LGBTQIA+ people and the opening up of same-sex marriage are at the root of this, she thinks.
“LGBTQIA+ books and DVDs were suddenly available at Fnac (a mainstream bookshop chain, red.) and you could show your orientation with your straight friends in an LGBTQIA+-friendly bar. The buffer was gone. I heard the community say more and more that they no longer wanted to be pinned down labels. And so the pink catering establishments and bookshops gradually fragmented. So, as a community, we no longer needed each other, it seemed to be the conclusion.”
Then came the COVID-19 pandemic. “That has changed everything yet again”, Johanna says. “But in our favor. Together with the social and ecological movements – climate marches, BLM, the more politicized LGBTQIA+ movements, etc. – it prompted a generation of young people to look for such a community again. It made our store more relevant.”
“Because there are always people in an environment where there is no space or support for such themes. We are an oasis for them.”
Johanna talks about an evolution in demand as well. In the beginning, people were looking for books about coming out and self-acceptance. “Now it’s about diversity, racism, feminism, veganism, … We are needed to give our patrons that information.”
Ulka Delbroek joined Kartonnen Dozen recently. She thought of starting her own bookshop, but then she encountered Kartonnen Dozen and she fell in love with the project. She’s cisgender and straight, “but who cares in 2022?”.
Delbroek has now to look for a new place, supporters and a new business partner. Hence the idea of a cooperative.
In the meantime, Ghent has now a queer and feminist bookshop: Rokko.
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