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updated: 8/31/2012 4:28 PM

Downtown Aurora bookstore aims to 'cultivate community'

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A used book shop that will double as a cultural programming space is gathering the inventory, volunteers and furnishings it needs to open by Oct. 15 in downtown Aurora.

Culture Stock bookstore plans to sell donated books, CDs, records, DVDs and other media from a city-owned building at 43 E. Galena Blvd. The store, operated by the nonprofit L.I.F.T. Aurora, will use its proceeds to host book talks, literacy events, mentoring programs, art shows and other community gatherings.

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It's an effort to enliven downtown Aurora by providing a consistent space for cultural events, said Nicole Mullins, founder and executive director of the nonprofit L.I.F.T., which stands for Live, Improve, Flourish, Thrive.

"We're aiming for it to be a civic space for cultivating community through culture," Mullins said.

Such a space has long been on the wish list of Aurora Downtown, an association of property owners in the city's central district.

"It's going to be absolutely wonderful for downtown. We've been hoping for a bookstore for a number of years," said Bob Reuland, consultant for Aurora Downtown. "We just don't feel a town is a town without a bookstore."

The shop is renting its space from the city for a $1, yearlong lease. Culture Stock will pay its own utility and maintenance bills and its business plan estimates startup costs will total $6,000.

"There is so much vacant space in downtown Aurora that it's good that it's actually going to be used for something," Mullins said about the building.

She said the biggest challenge will be getting the store up and running by the Oct. 15 deadline specified in the lease. About 200 people have expressed interest in volunteering, with many of them signed up for a Sept. 23 book sorting and pricing potluck that will prepare for the opening.

The idea for Culture Stock came from a L.I.F.T. Aurora board member whom Mullins said "fell in love with Open Books," a Chicago nonprofit bookstore that provides community programs to promote literacy.

Kevin Elliott, bookstore manager for Open Books, said staff and volunteers there were glad to show Culture Stock organizers how they run their operation.

"It takes a lot of time and a lot of elbow grease and a lot of passion to make it successful," Elliott said about the nonprofit used bookstore model Culture Stock is attempting to follow.

The shop has not identified any major competitors, as Mullins said the only other bookstores in Aurora are on the campuses of Waubonsee Community College and Aurora University. Selling used books and other materials may be a "hit or miss" venture, but Mullins said the lack of other commercial bookstores in the city should help Culture Stock's cause.

"That is our advantage," she said.

While the Aurora Public Library is in the early stages of building a new main library downtown with more space for cultural activities, Mullins said her shop will aim to collaborate with the library and other groups, filling holes in programming instead of offering competing events.

"We're interested to see what happens," Elliott said. "Any bookstore opening in this climate is a positive thing right now."

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