BRINGING "BREAD AND ROSES" TO LITTLE ROCK: Six of the 14 Bread and Roses Cooperative members who are working to establish Little Rock's first worker-owned store, cafe and community arts center. From back left: Kennedy Djimpe, Kenny Grand, Madere Toure, (front, left to right) Elliot Nowlin, Larissa Gudino and Levi Coffman. BRIAN CHILSON

Fourteen Little Rock artisans — makers of paper and soaps; bread, jams and jellies; artwork and crafts; and more — are working to open Little Rock’s first worker-owned store, cafe and community arts center this month at 2909 W. Markham St., in Stifft Station.


The Bread and Roses Cooperative
— named for a 1912 strike by immigrant textile workers in Massachusetts who adopted the slogan “The worker must have bread, but she must have roses, too” — was conceived by several Little Rock community organizers and artists. When the 1,000-square-foot storefront, formerly Forever Yours Tattoo, became available for lease by Graham’s Property Management and Real Estate Co., the idea became reality.

“A bunch of people in the community started getting upset because we don’t need another lame boutique,” said co-op member Kenny Grand, 34, who is helping with logistics and recruitment for the co-op. “So, I was like, why don’t we take it over and make it into a community space?” After the space became available, Grand sent out a Facebook invitation to a wider community of artists to discuss starting a co-op. His vision resonated with many artisans, including Larissa Gudino, 29, who makes teas, journaling books and other paper crafts. Gudino said she’d envisioned creating a community art space with childcare and afterschool programs, and when she received Grand’s invite, she realized these ideas could meet in one place.

“This could be the same idea, all the things could happen in the same spot,” Gudino said. “And it would be better for everything to be happening in one spot because it would be more likely to survive.”

Advertisement

In 2016, Grand helped found the Little Fox Foods Co-op, which was run out of the Meadowcreek Rural Enterprise Incubator in North Arkansas. That venture has since ended; Grand said he’s hopeful Bread and Roses will be able to achieve more longevity.

A worker-owned cooperative is a business in which no one person or entity has sole controlling interest in the company. Each co-owner gets one share of and one vote for the control of the business. Rental pay for the space is divided among the co-op’s members, and wages are distributed according to how many hours an individual member works during the pay period. Grand said the cooperative financial arrangement allows people who want to start a business to “socialize the risk” of starting up.

Other co-op members include Levi Coffman, who does leatherworking; Kennedy Djimpe, who currently runs Bread and Roses’ social media and who also wants to be involved in childcare programming with an emphasis on music; Elliot Nowlin, who will be contributing to zine making, community organizing and food prep; and Madere Toure, an artist who said he wants to help plan shows for other artists in the space.

Grand said the cooperative plans to work with the New South Produce Cooperative in North Little Rock as a source of milk, eggs and cheese that Bread and Roses will sell along with baked goods and other items. Plans also call for readings, gallery showings and other public uses of the space. Grand said the co-op also hopes to make good on Gudino’s idea to provide childcare both for its members and patrons while they visit the business.

Bread and Roses’ members will prepare baked goods off-site in commercial kitchens. Stainless steel countertops and industrial refrigerators have been donated to the cooperative, as has a hot dog cart, a gift from the Islamic Center for Human Excellence on Wright Street, according to Grand. The co-op has also set up a GoFundMe page. Construction is being done by members of the co-op.

The main difference between working for a cooperative and working for oneself “is we realize we’re all the boss,” Grand said. “There’s not a designated investor person who’s like, ‘My old man had the cash for it,’ or ‘I had the idea and labored on this, so no matter how much work I continue to put into this, I still get the lion’s share.’ That kind of cripples it. The failure rate of new orthodox businesses is in the 80 to 90 percent range, and the failure rate of cooperatives is in the 60 percent range, and that 30 percent differential is because you look at it more as whole. There’s more adaptability.”

Advertisement

Bread and Roses Cooperative is also establishing itself as a place of inclusivity, a cafe that welcomes all comers. “This is an explicitly trans-positive space, this is an explicitly queer-positive space, this is an explicitly black-lives-matter space, this is an explicitly pro-immigrant, pro-Muslim space,” co-op member Caitlin Roberts of Little Rock, 36, a former nurse who now homeschools her children and makes soaps and breads, said. “The idea of relying on community to meet ends has never been a stranger to the black community, it’s never been a stranger to the queer community.”

“It’s never been a stranger to the working-class rural community,” Grand added.

“These are the people who already all know the benefit of alternative power structures and community cooperation because that’s the only way we’ve survived,” Roberts said.

Hampton Roy, 25, a local historian and co-op member who plans to help with food prep and educational workshops, also said the reliance on community will be key to the success of Bread and Roses. “Our coordination has been extremely on point,” he said. “That’s part of that community. We’re all greater than the sum of our parts. You see a niche in the community, you step in, you make your effort.”

“The way that it’s growing is [it’s] not just one person accumulating something, it’s horizontal and enfolding,” Roberts said.

Bread and Roses intends to fill a niche in the Little Rock community, one that local artists, bakers, musicians, contractors and members of the working class have long needed. “We’re looking for dignity, respect [and] self-determination,” Grand said.

For more information about the Bread and Roses Cooperative and updates on the space’s hours and official opening date, visit its Facebook page at facebook.com/breadandrosescooperative.