Vice President at Housing Works
By Penny Gray
Avice president at nonprofit Housing Works, Susie Lupert talks to us about the Housing Works Bookstore Café at 126 Crosby St., as well as the other business ventures that Housing Works has going in its fight to end homelessness and AIDS through relentless advocacy, lifesaving services and entrepreneurial businesses.
How did you land at Housing Works?
I have a background in not-for-profits and a master's in not-for-profit policy, so I've been dedicated to the field for a long time. I've been here for eight years now, so it's been the crux of my career.
How would you describe Housing Works?
Housing Works is a grassroots organization dedicated to helping homeless people who are HIV-positive. We're a unique nonprofit because we believe that profitability isn't bad. An efficiently run company isn't bad. I can't imagine another nonprofit like us. We're running businesses to raise money to help people.
You're a vice president-what does that mean in terms of day-to-day practice?
A lot! My job is to generate long-term visionary ideas about our businesses. I run several of the small businesses for Housing Works, and we're always thinking about how to be profitable while remaining true to our core values. It's a unique balance of brainstorming about revenue generation while also developing a board of directors, all the while leaving enough space to think about new ways to raise money for the HIV-positive homeless of New York, which is our ultimate purpose and mission. The Bookstore and Café are only two of the businesses I'm responsible for running.
How does the Housing Works Bookstore Café on Crosby Street relate to Housing Works' wider mission?
We've been at 126 Crosby St. since 1996, so it's been quite a while-long enough that we're a Downtown institution. We're really one of the last community spaces left in Soho, and we pride ourselves on being part of the Downtown community. We've got many supporters who are die-hard Downtown artists, and we hope that people see us as part of the Downtown infrastructure.
What's it like being Downtown at the moment?
It's tough because the rent is high and we have a large staff to support. We've started doing private events to subsidize the cost of staying open. People just don't buy as many books as they used to. It's a real sacrifice to us to close early to fund the location, but the space just can't be a used bookstore anymore because we don't sell enough books. One interesting fact that most folks don't know is that we actually run another business underneath the Bookstore Café in the basement. It's our online bookshop, and it generates about $1 million in revenue every year, equal to the bookstore's revenue. We provide skills and full-time jobs to those who have come through our job-training program-it's an amazing incubator to make money and provide jobs. It's also a great form of outreach to let people know about Housing Works all around the world. We put a bookmark in every book we ship out, and we hear from folks all the time who are so excited to learn about us and visit us when they come to New York City.
Do you think the Housing Works Bookstore Café could exist elsewhere in the city?
Sure; it's replicable, but it wouldn't be the same. It would probably be purely an events space. People aren't buying books anymore, which may be sad, but it's the way things are. The private events keep us open and part of the community, which is what we want to be and do. We couldn't replace the Downtown community somewhere else in the city, that's for sure!
What upcoming events is Housing Works Bookstore Café hosting?
Every Friday night we have a happy hour with cheap drink specials and board games. We really want to create a community space for people-what better way to do that than to provide a space where people can economically have a glass of wine before dinner and get to know other? Or, even better, just read and drink. We also host two Moth Story Slams every month. [The Moth is a nonprofit dedicated to telling stories about true life.] We've enjoyed that collaboration very much. Dec. 18 is a special day for us as we'll be hosting "What the Dickens?" a Christmas Carol marathon in which authors and celebrities come and read throughout the day, starting at 1 p.m. That's not to be missed, and it's an excellent way to celebrate the holiday season.
What do you love most about your job?
My job is totally unique. I love it because not another one exists like it in the world. Every year I'm taking on projects and job elements I haven't done the year before. It's a position that is constantly in flux. And that's a lot of fun.
Photo courtesy of housing works