Red Emma's is Moving!: An Interview

Red Emma's is Moving!: An Interview

Red Emma's is moving! Poster By: Red Emma's Bookstore Coffeehouse
Red Emma's is moving! Poster By: Red Emma's Bookstore Coffeehouse

Red Emma’s Bookstore Coffeehouse often describes itself as your local, friendly, radical infoshop. Named in honor of the famous anarchist, feminist, activist hero Emma Goldman, Red Emma’s (often affectionately referred to simply as “Emma’s”), as part of the infoshop movement, has always worked to keep her firebrand legacy alive and well via knowledge sharing, envisioning, and creating. A collective-motto of sorts is Emma Goldman’s quote: “The most violent element in society is ignorance.”

Through its bookstore, zine section, events calendar, lived politics, and physical space for community gathering and building, for nearly nine years the collective has become a hub for radical activism.

Throughout the years, Emma’s has opened two sister spaces: The 2640 Space (2007) and The Baltimore Free School (2009). It has also produced over a thousand events, organized multiple conferences (most notably The City from Below Conference and Mobilizing and Organizing from Below), and orchestrated an annual radical bookfair. Emma’s has created space not just in its Mt. Vernon location but also for building activist infrastructure within Baltimore City. It is no wonder, that now almost a decade into the project’s life, Emma’s cites to have outgrown its small basement bookstore.

Red Emma’s is moving from its well-known and beloved 800 Saint Paul location. In September 2013, Red Emma’s intends to open its brand-new doors on 30 W. North Avenue, in Station North. This location is five times the size of the current Mt.Vernon space. The collective states this move will increase the actual bookstore by triple its current size, as well as dramatically maximize the allotted area for events. That is far from all. The new Red Emma’s is bound to smell amazing with the current vegan and vegetarian cafe fare greatly expanding through a full-commerical kitchen, vegan baked goods made in-house, and Thread Coffee (the newest branch in the Red Emma’s family of projects), a local collective transparent-trade coffee roaster, roasting its beans directly inside the expanded infoshop.

Lastly but far from leastly, moving into the Station North site is the older sister project: The Baltimore Free School. This integration shines as an example of how a prefigurative community can look and operate.

This vision, that also includes working for legitimate worker compensation while maintaining its collectively-run and operated structure and critically moving into a neighborhood that is in the midst of redevelopment, will require a great deal of work and funds. Red Emma's asks for your support through a variety of ways that include, among other things, direct participation in the build-out and financial donations.

Red Emma's last day at 800 Saint Paul Street is May 18th, 2013. There will be a goodbye party for and at the cherished site on May 18th, 2013. Festivities will start at 6pm.

In the meantime, however, collective members -- Spencer Compton, Christa Daring, John Duda, Michelle Fleming, and Kate Khatib -- discuss the upcoming move with Indyreader editor Corey Reidy: 1 2

Corey Reidy: When was the decision made to move to a different space? When was it publicly announced?

Kate Khatib: We've been talking about a move for a long time, actually -- at least a couple of years. But we really started searching for a new space in earnest in the Spring of 2012. After considering a number of different spaces around the city, we started talking with the owners of the North Avenue Market late last summer, and after six months of discussions, we signed the lease on 30 W. North Avenue last December, which is when we announced the move, and started our online crowdfunding campaign.

Reidy: Why did the collective decide to move to a different space?

Khatib: A lot of reasons, but most of them have to do with physical space -- and our need for more of it! 800 Saint Paul Street has been a phenomenal home for us, but it's a space that we outgrew many years ago. Aside from the very basic needs of more space for books, and a larger area for events, we also want to expand our cafe options, and really scale up to providing delicious and hearty vegan and vegetarian meals, in addition to our standard cafe fare, as well as bringing all of our vegan baking in house, and roasting our own transparently-traded coffee.

Reidy: What is the vision for the new space?

Christa Daring: In many ways the new Red Emma’s [is to] be a continuation of the old. We will remain steadfast in our commitment to economic and social justice, while incorporating new and innovative models for workplace democracy. One of our original goals was to be able to prove that doing business ethically didn’t prohibit paying ourselves a living wage, over time we’ve discovered our economy of scale isn’t great enough in the current space to meet that objective.

Part of our visioning for the new space has been to strive to keep pushing ourselves and the limits of our structure to meet that aim. We've always been very experimental and that isn't bound to change anytime soon. It's sometimes messy but it's never boring.

Red Emma’s is political by its very existence, but arguably more political is the space that we create and maintain that fosters other radical projects and developments. When we move into the new space and expand by fivefold, our ability to disseminate radical ideas will only increase. Radical pedagogy isn't as much about what you can teach, but what you can assist someone to teach themselves, the whole of the Red Emma's project is a classroom. The addition of the Baltimore Free School into our space is a tremendous opportunity for us to institutionalize this radical pedagogy.

Red Emma’s isn’t a strictly anarchist project, but we are an anti-authoritarian prefigurative project; we’re building the new world in the shell of the old. Our space will serve to promote and further radical and horizontal organizing, while also working to negate the oppressive forces that would destroy our communities. We envision a world without bosses or exploitation and will continue to work towards building that reality.

Reidy: How much money needs to be raised in order for this new-space vision to be realized?

Khatib: It's a good chunk of change. We estimate the total expansion budget -- which includes renovations, equipment & furniture purchases, and all of the necessary licensing -- to be $220,000. We've raised about $100,000 so far through a combination of private donations, crowdfunding, events, and a generous low-interest loan from a community foundation. We're in the process of applying for loans and grants to finance the rest -- our goal is to work with small-scale, cooperative, and local lenders, so we're really interested in any an all possibilities for low-interest loans or community grants that anyone can send our way! We'll be hosting a number of fundraising events throughout the summer, and making a lot of targeted asks for donations, as we get closer to the opening date, and have specific things we need to buy or build.

Reidy: Emma's is a worker-run and operated collective business. How will the move impact this structure, primarily considering: decision-making, operations, financial aspects.

Khatib: We're scaling up the business, and that means that our internal structure has to change to accommodate an influx of people, labor, and resources. But Red Emma's will remain fundamentally the same -- the people you see working behind the counter, in the kitchen, or at the books kiosk are the people who own, and manage, the space collectively and collaboratively. Structurally speaking, we're a worker cooperative, and that's a very important part of our political identity - we're really excited to try out the structure we've spent a decade building and refining on a much larger scale. One big change is that we're really prioritizing the sustainability of the project as a source of income for the worker-owners. Red Emma's has never been an entirely volunteer-run project, but the wages we make currently are very small. In the new Emma's, we're hoping that we'll have the economy of scale we need to do enough business to pay the worker-owners a living wage. And, with the introduction of a more sustainable, steady source of income for worker-owners, we anticipate that opening the doors for a lot of people who have wanted to be involved with the project, but haven't had the luxury of free time to volunteer.

Reidy: Station North has seen rapid development in the present and recent past. As a political project, is Red Emma's addressing that reality of your move to the neighborhood? If so, how?

John Duda: North Avenue and the surrounding area is a really interesting place to be moving to, and the immediate question for us is to make sure that our presence is a net positive for existing area residents, something we're excited to think we've got a pretty good handle on -- we're going to be providing more organizing space, more free political and educational events, more free internet access terminals, and continuing to run a space which is welcoming to everyone, regardless of whether or not they have money to spend. There's also a longer term set of questions: what does the larger community and political framework look like that makes sure that development in the area doesn't translate to wholesale displacement of current low-income residents? How can redevelopment of the area work to create more cooperatively-owned businesses, more permanently affordable housing, more community-focused cultural and educational spaces? And how can Red Emma's play a part in that? Obviously, this isn't something that is going to be figured out overnight, and even though we're primarily focused right now on the practical questions of getting our doors open, we've been working on internal political education and initial conversations to start making sense of the long-term challenges and possibilities here.

Reidy: The rumor about town is that the new RE's location is going to include sister projects: Thread and The Baltimore Free School. What does that integration mean for the space? Will the relationship to The 2640 Space change at all with the move?

Michelle Fleming: Having Red Emma's, Thread, and The Free School under one roof is really going to benefit all of these projects. Operating costs for Thread and The Free School are going to be much lower in a shared space. The Free School space will be available for organizations to rent out for meetings, which is great for RE. We get calls about renting our current space and it just isn't an option, all other operations would have to be shut down. So having a separate room that people can reserve will resolve that issue and allow us to better function as a hub for activism in Baltimore.

The relationship between RE and 2640 isn't going to change too much. Some of the medium-sized events that were too big for the old Red Emma's but felt a little sparse in a space as big as 2640 will be hosted in the new space. Our new events area will be expandable so we can accomodate different-sized talks.

Reidy: Red Emma's just announced that you'll be closing your doors at the current Mt.Vernon location on May 18th. Can the public expect anything in particular at the space in these remaining weeks?

Fleming: On May 18th there will be a big goodbye party at 800 St Paul. The festivities will start at 6pm and you can expect music, libations, and the good kind of anarchy. We recommend stocking up on all your radical summer reading before then!

There will also be so many work days, mostly over the summer, though bookshelf building has already begun. Please get in touch with us if you would like to volunteer for some skilled or unskilled labor! It's your best chance to get a sneak peek at Red Emma's 2 before the doors open.

Reidy: When is the anticipated opening date for the new space on North Ave.?

Khatib: September 2013

Reidy: Will the move impact Red Emma's involvement in this year's annual Radical Bookfair Pavilion at the Baltimore Book Festival?

Fleming: We still intend to be involved in the Book Festival in full force. It is a lot of work to organize three days of speakers and tablers. It is also a lot of work to organize the opening of an expanded cafe and bookstore. These things are probably happening around the same time, and it is going to take a lot of long nights. We'll need volunteer support more than ever! We started planning for the book fair early this year and hopefully that will reduce the work we have to do throughout the summer.

Reidy: What are the build-out plans for the upcoming months?

Spencer Compton: Once the collective gets access to our new home in May, we'll have to start working right away on some large build-out projects including painting the entire space; installing ventilation, electric, plumbing and appliances in the kitchen; fabricating roughly 60' of 12' tall bookshelves; fabricating the bar; installing lighting throughout the space; and a lot of smaller construction projects like bathroom floor tiling, building tables, installing A/V equipment for events, etc.

Reidy: How can people help in the upcoming months? Or when the space is open?

Compton: We need help getting all of this done before we open back up in the fall! The best way to get involved is to let us know HOW you can help. Are you good at carpentry? Are you a moving guru? Are you in a comfortable enough position to help subsidize all our expenses in building out the new Red Emma's this summer?

Feel free to email us at

Khatib: People can also support us by making donations! Visit our website and donate via WePay, or contact us about making a tax-deductible contribution to the Baltimore Free School. The more money we can raise through community donations, the less debt we'll have when we open our doors in September, which would be great. Once we're open - there are so many ways people can support us! Come in for lunch and dinner! Rent our meeting room, and plan a catered event. Come to us with your event ideas and suggestions. Order your course texts through Red Emma's, or send us lists of books to procure for us. And help us spread the word about the project!


1 Reidy is also an inactive Red Emma's collective member.

2 For further coverage about the Red Emma's move please visit:


Photo of Corey Reidy

Corey Reidy has been an Indyreader collective member since the start of 2009. And.. she adores it with all her heart. When Reidy isn't editing, writing, interviewing, or other Indyreader-centric organizing, she works to do other forms of radical activism -- including, but not limited to, organizing/being a board member of Hollaback! Baltimore. If she's not organizing, Reidy is most likely reading, biking, or practicing/studying yoga (of which she adores and will 100% go to bat to defend and promote).