By Dusty Christensen
AMHERST — In 1982, the employees of Gnomon Copies in Amherst unionized and went on strike, demanding better working conditions. After three months, management agreed to a settlement with the workers, but then promptly closed down the store.
Not to be deterred, six of those workers gathered loans from community allies and used the money to create a new print-and-copy shop, Collective Copies, incorporating their new, worker-owned business on International Workers’ Day: May 1, 1983.
On Monday, Collective Copies celebrated its 40th birthday, inviting authors to the store for readings and offering tours of their downtown Amherst location at 71 South Pleasant St. Now operating on both sides of the Connecticut River with its location in Florence, co-owner Matt Grillo told The Shoestring that the employee-run co-op has weathered a lot of changes in the industry over the years.
“I don’t think we could have done it if we weren’t worker-owned,” said Grillo, who has worked at the store for more than two decades.
As a worker-run co-op, Grillo said that everybody does a little bit of everything at Collective Copies, from paying bills to cleaning. But he said it is community members who have kept the business going over those 40 years by supporting the shop.
Collective Copies has expanded its services since those earliest to include everything from helping authors self-publish and print their books to wedding announcements and photo compilations. The worker-owners of Collective Copies also formed their own independent book-publishing venture, Levellers Press, in 2009.
“This area boasts so many writers,” Grillo said.
Grillo said that the concept behind worker ownership is simple: each worker gets one vote so that they can represent themselves democratically in the workplace. Profits are shared based on the work somebody does, with 10% of those profits returned to the community in some way. The workers themselves are unionized through the United Electrical Radio and Machine Workers of America Local 274.
“There’s no other layers siphoning off our labor,” Grillo said.
A model across the region for collectively owned businesses, Collective Copies also advises and supports other co-ops locally by investing in the Valley Alliance of Worker Co-operatives.
The workers were blasting the greatest hits of 1983 from the store’s speakers on Monday, Prince providing the soundtrack as customers came in to celebrate four decades of Collective Copies.
“We’re really grateful to still be here,” Grillo said.
Dusty Christensen is an independent investigative reporter based in western Massachusetts. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @dustyc123. Photo: Dusty Christensen.
The Shoestring is committed to bringing you ad-free content. We rely on readers to support our work! You can support independent news for Western Mass by visiting our Donate page.