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Emerging Lane: A Radical Approach

Lexington bookstore is now a cooperative venture

By Kathie Stamps

As one of the new owners of Wild Fig Worker Cooperative, April Taylor focuses on creating a welcoming and inclusive environment.

On North Limestone Street in Lexington, or NoLi as the area is called, Wild Fig serves up sandwiches, bagels and sweets, locally roasted coffee, unique merchandise and new books labeled “Figtion” and “non-Figtion.” But for the worker-owners of Wild Fig, serving people takes precedence over selling products.

Billing itself as a cooperatively owned radical bookstore, coffee shop and community event space, Wild Fig Worker Cooperative is the new reincarnation of Wild Fig Books & Coffee. 

The bookstore originally opened in 2011 in the Meadowthorpe area west of downtown and moved to North Limestone in September 2015. Three years later, the owners announced the store was closing. Native Lexingtonian and community organizer April V. Taylor spearheaded a group of seven co-founding workers to purchase the business.

“When the news broke that Crystal Wilkinson and Ronald Davis were in fact selling Wild Fig, closing had been something they had been considering seriously for some time,” Taylor said of the Instagram announcement Aug. 30, 2018. “Despite this, it was still jolting to finally have to consider what it would be like for Wild Fig to be owned by someone other than them.”

She was determined to ensure that the business would wind up in the hands of someone “committed to making sure it remained a safe and welcoming space.”

Earlier in the year, Taylor had found herself spending more and more time at Wild Fig, having no idea she would soon be running the place. Her job as a community organizer had her working in a coworking space “full of microaggressions and unwelcoming to the point of trying to push me out,” she said. “Wild Fig became a safe haven for me during this time as I began working out of Wild Fig nearly every weekday.”

That welcoming spirit of inclusivity continues to be a focus of Wild Fig Worker Cooperative.

“While many commend me on my leadership with the community purchase of Wild Fig, it would be remiss of me to not point out that it was an act of self-preservation,” Taylor said, “as it was the only space I had ever spent time in in Lexington where I always felt safe and affirmed.”

Through her position as the community organizer for Fresh Stop Markets, Taylor learned about cooperatives and this form of solidarity economy movement. “I became aware of how many businesses were finding new life in being converted to worker cooperatives,” she said. She knew raising the $25,000 purchase price for Wild Fig in less than 30 days was a daunting task, but figured there was nothing to lose. Even if the goal fell short, “whatever we raised would be given to Ron and Crystal as a love offering for having kept the space open as long as they did,” she said.

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Worker cooperatives are built on profit-sharing among the owners, who are also workers, with each person having a vote in making decisions.

She is appreciative of the deep community support for the store. To provide for a sustainable business model, she is pursuing nontraditional financing available to cooperatives through wealth funds.

“Many states allow cooperatives to form as cooperative corporations; however, that option is not available to cooperatives in Kentucky,” Taylor said.

While there are organizations like Mountain Association for Community Economic Development (MACED) based in Berea and the Elizabethtown-based Kentucky Center for Agriculture and Rural Development (KCARD), Lexington falls outside the geographic boundaries for such technical support and cooperative incubators. As Taylor and the other worker-owners concentrate on building and maintaining Wild Fig Worker Cooperative, “we must lobby to change laws and build incubation structures also,” she said.

For those who support Wild Fig in person, the store offers various writing workshops, readings and open mikes on the event calendar at any given time, as well as its most popular event, the monthly Drag Queen Story Time.

Locally sourced merchandise includes statement T-shirts, jewelry, sage and lavender bundles, topical CBD products from Treehouse Goods and shea butter from S’Hemply Made. The coffee is from City Roastery, a local roaster in Georgetown; pastries from Mighty Acorn Vegan Kitchen are also on the menu.

“If it wasn’t for the community that continues to step up, we wouldn’t be here,” Taylor said.

Wild Fig Worker Cooperative is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. The radical bookstore welcomes online support by shopping at wildfigbooksandcoffee.com or patreon.com/wildfigbooksandcoffee.