First they Sleep, Then they Creep, Last they leap: Mondragon’s Journey to success
In 2009, Charles Zachary founded a bookstore store to which he named Mondragon after the world’s largest worker’s co-op based in Spain. Similar to the feminist bookstore, New Words bookstore, opened in 1972, Mondragon Books is placed on the first floor of what one would assume a house if they had quickly glanced at it. They also had been opened as a way for the former Bucknell professor to discuss politics as well as analyze everything with his Marxist views to incoming customers, ultimately creating a sense of community for individuals who enjoyed discussing philosophical views. However, dissimilar to New Words, “Charles hadn’t cared how well the bookstore was doing. He just wanted it to… Exist” said Sarajean Snyder, the new owner of the store. Why would that be? If the store was not doing well wouldn’t there be less business which means a smaller selection of people to talk to? Or is that what Zachary wanted? Did he want his bookstore to be hidden from the majority and only known by some?
Mondragon was sleeping.
A timeline which shows five main events that have either positively or negatively impacted Mondragon’s business. (Powered by Time.Graphics)
Throughout the years, Sarajean had concluded that Mondragon grew similar to that of a garden as she used the saying, “first they sleep, then they creep, last they leap.” Only opening in 2009, Mondragon is still fairly young and still learning new ways to attract more customers. Although the bookstore has now made a big name with its high ceilings, shelves filled with donated books, and events, allowing the store to become a communal gathering ground, the tiny bookstore had not always been as popular.
On August 27 of 2010, Barnes and Noble partners with Bucknell to open a shop just three blocks away from Mondragon. Has that negatively impacted the bookstore? Not as harshly as they thought it would. The store was not at its prime when ran by eighty-year-old Zachary, and one could assume that the well known corporate bookstore would ultimately cut the small scale bookstore’s time short. Sarajean notes that the small shop was – and still is – home to more town people than Bucknell students. Every visitor obtains an attachment to the environment Mondragon provides and being that the store is small, individuals do not have much of a choice but to socialize with other customers as well as Sarajean, forming new relationships. With this attachment to the store also comes benefits which is loyalty. This is why although some may shop for books at the corporate chain, they will also continue to support Mondragon as they volunteer, donate books, and refer friends and family.
Early 2016, Sarajean moves back from California to her hometown of Lewisburg. She experiments with jobs, trying to find one that suited her personality the most and when she came across Mondragon, she realized that it was the perfect place for her. While volunteering, Zachary noticed her profound passion for the bookstore and with his age, he saw the perfect opportunity to hand his business over to the right person. Although aware that she had not had much experience with owning a bookstore beside renting
Mondragon Bookstore owner, Sarajean.
out a small garage similar to a storage unit and selling her old books from there, Sarajean accepted the offer with open hands and immediately began focusing on improving the bookstore in order to gain more business and allow Mondragon to gain the attention this hidden treasure deserves.
She focused on rearranging the store’s interior so that it felt more comfortable to incoming customers. She took advantage of the once dull, barely filled high shelves by lining them with as many books as she could possibly fit. The more books available, the more customers are drawn in. However, Sarajean put more focus into the books she lays out because, like Frances Steloff, who owned the Gotham Book Mart, she favored a specific type of customer. Snyder admits that she takes an immense liking in African American literature and books about nature. And that she does prefer
The shelves of Mondragon before.
to attract individuals who possess the same liking in books as her. This allows the customer to find common ground with Sarajean as they discuss their appreciation of that genre of book and form a bond, something Snyder thinks is important to have with customers.
As the years pass and Sarajean gains more experience with owning a bookstore, she continues to create relationships with her customers who also prove to be very creative which is how she receives a lot of her merchandise. She wants her store to be seen as a communal gathering area where people can show off their talents, speak freely and have fun. So like Sisterhood Bookstore, another feminist store opened in the early 1970s, Sarajean is beyond willing to host events for those individuals in Mondragon as she accepts fliers, to send around town. She explained that a friend of hers created the design of Mondragon’s logo which is now proudly sitting outside of the store, allowing passing people to see what lays inside of the big green house.
The logo is also stamped onto Mondragon’s bookmarks which are available with the purchase of a book. Another friend was able to create clothing for Independent Bookseller day which took place on the 27th of April of last year.
This day of booksellers coming together and celebrating their accomplishments as well as drawing in many, many customers due to the merchandise her loyal customers and close friends make, is allowing Mondragon’s name to become more widespread beyond just Lewisburg. Mondragon is now creeping out from under.
Late January, the owners of the apartment sitting just above Mondragon found a new house to live in and sadly they were notified that they were not able to bring their beloved cat, Tiger, while in the process of moving out. The family had no idea what to do so Sarajean happily offered to adopt him and since January 28th of 2018, Tiger has been a great addition to the Mondragon community as many visitors who come love to spoil Tiger with love and belly massages. As Tiger’s stay lengthened, he’s unknowingly attracted more guests who stayed to read, talk, and of course visit Tiger.
Mondragon still has not reached their leap year but Sarajean is driven to make that happen in the span of a year or two from now. Her main goal is to continue expanding the Mondragon family by hosting events such as book painting night, where people can visit and paint the backs of books or form collages about themselves and continue to allow her shop to promote work as she hangs paintings and accepts music from independent artists. When the bookstore is doing better, Sarajean wishes to switch her focus onto making a mobile bookstore where she is able to drive around especially to communities where individuals do not have many as resources, just like Helen’s brother Roger from Parnassus on Wheels. With her big dreams, Sarajean is sure to make Mondragon’s name leap from the shadows and allow its beauty to gain recognition from a large following that views the bookstore as a home and each other as a close-knit community.
Timeline Graphics <https://time.graphics/line/231258>
Emma Ginader <https://www.dailyitem.com/>
Morley, Christopher. Parnassus on Wheels. HathiTrust, 1890.
Rogers, W.G. Wise Men Fish Here: The Story of Frances Steloff and the Gotham Book Mart.
Spain, Daphne. Constructive Feminism. Cornell University Press, 2016.