Radical Baltimore bookstore Red Emma’s plans expansion

Red Emma's is a bookstore and coffeehouse run by 14 collective members, all of whom are their own bosses. (WTOP/Natalie Plumb)
Red Emma's is a bookstore, coffeehouse and infoshop run by 14 collective members, all of whom are their own bosses. Iris Kirsch, 31, of New York, is a Baltimore City Public School English teacher on a leave of absence. She started working with Red Emma's because she believes in the mission. (WTOP/Natalie Plumb)
Red Emma's, 800 St. Paul St., is expanding in the fall of 2013. (WTOP/Natalie Plumb)
Lavena Johanson, 23, leaves Red Emma's, which is around the corner from the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University, where she is a second-year graduate student studying cello. Johanson visits Red Emma's a few times every week. (WTOP/Natalie Plumb)
Cullen Nawalkowsky, 36, of Philadelphia, is one of Red Emma's books coordinators, a committee that some of Red Emma's collective members co-head. (WTOP/Natalie Plumb)
Red Emma's subscribes to several periodicals that discuss politics, free-thinking and lifestyle. (WTOP/Natalie Plumb)
The computers at Red Emma's are free to the public, whether or not you are a customer. Workers and volunteers say they often see everyone from homeless people to people who just got out of jail walk through their doors to use the Internet. (WTOP/Natalie Plumb)
Halim Shon, 29, of New York, left, and Jene Lee, 29, of Baltimore, use Red Emma's free wireless Internet. Lee is a second-year graduate student studying voice performance at the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University studying. He visits the bookstore in between classes at least three times each week, he says. (WTOP/Natalie Plumb)
A girl enjoys a beverage while sitting at Red Emma's counter. Iris Kirsch, a worker at the bookstore and coffeehouse, says this counter is one of the best places in town to network. (WTOP/Natalie Plumb)
"Slingshots" are day-planners that Red Emma's sells. The planners are chalk-full of social justice facts and are made by a collective in California in order to finance its newspaper. (WTOP/Natalie Plumb)
Adrian Mills, 46, of Baltimore, comes to Red Emma's about once each week to eat and write. He writes about race relations in America and says his goal is to end racism with poetry. (WTOP/Natalie Plumb)
A mug holds the remains of a caramel latte. The mug quotes Karl Marx: "Philosophers have only interpreted the world: the point is to change it." (WTOP/Natalie Plumb)
Worker Kate Khalib, 35, talks to a regular Red Emma's customer, Joyce Singer, 64. Singer's son used to volunteer at the now-defunct Black Planet Books with Khalib. Black Planet is the anarchist bookstore from which the idea to establish Red Emma's developed. (WTOP/Natalie Plumb)
"I've been here for 38 years, and this is the best thing that's ever happened to Mt. Vernon," says Leroy Keltner, 68, a regular customer of the store in downtown Baltimore's Mt. Vernon district. (WTOP/Natalie Plumb)
Kelvin Pittman, 38, started volunteering at Red Emma's in June 2012. "The only two consistent jobs in my work history have been working in bookstores and coffee shops," he says. "That must be my purview: recommending stuff and serving people." (WTOP/Natalie Plumb)
Red Emma's menu has a lot of vegan and vegetarian options. The menu is colorfully written and designed on the wall just above the store's counter. A print menu is available for short people or those with inflexible necks. (WTOP/Natalie Plumb)
Iris Kirsch, 31, of New York, is a Baltimore City Public School English teacher on a leave of absence. She started working with Red Emma's because she believes in the mission. (WTOP/Natalie Plumb)
Red Emma's is expanding and moving from 800 St. Paul St., to a new home at 30 W. North Ave. Workers at the store held a fundraiser to raise money for the expansion. This sign in the storefront window uses people figures to show what the expansion will mean in terms of seating space in order to encourage donors to give to the project. (WTOP/Natalie Plumb)
The store houses an impressive stock of books -- 6,500 to be exact -- on a tiny amount of shelf space. Featured artists cover far-ranging subjects, and are often opposites. Here, a classic book of Pablo Picasso's work sits below a book by contemporary graffiti artist Banksy. (WTOP/Natalie Plumb)
The store houses 6,500 books. The books are mainly political, but Red Emma's genres range from historical fiction, poetry, graphic novels, social theory and political commentary. Red Emma's worker Kelvin Pittman, 38, takes a look at a book by Carlos Cortez, a political activist and artist. (WTOP/Natalie Plumb)
Red Emma's is named after Emma Goldman, a feminist, anarchist and labor organizer during the first half of the 20th century. Goldman is the face of the bookstore's logo. (WTOP/Natalie Plumb)
Red Emma's windows are filled with objects and antiques, akin to the store, which is covered in books, pamphlets, periodicals and self-published works. (WTOP/Natalie Plumb)
Iris Kirsch, 31, of New York, is a Baltimore City Public School English teacher on a leave of absence. She started working with Red Emma's because she believes in the mission. (WTOP/Natalie Plumb)
Red Emma's started off with bookshelves that the workers built out of scrap lumber. A few years ago, co-founding collective member John Duda traveled the nation to study bookstores' shelves. These books rest on the shelves he designed thereafter. (WTOP/Natalie Plumb)
Red Emma's has a lot of literature on its shelves, including self-published works. (WTOP/Natalie Plumb)
Red Emma's sold hoodies, t-shirts, sweatshirts and buttons to fund their move into an expanded space at 30 W. North Ave. in the fall of 2013. Though the fundraiser ended Feb. 4, they are still selling these items. (WTOP/Natalie Plumb)
The register is one of four computers in the store. The other three are for the public -- anyone who walks in, customer or not -- to use. (WTOP/Natalie Plumb)
Red Emma's sold hoodies, t-shirts, sweatshirts and buttons to fund their move into an expanded space at 30 W. North Ave. in the fall of 2013. Though the fundraiser ended Feb. 4, they are still selling these items. (WTOP/Natalie Plumb)
David Scheper made and designed this counter's ironwork. Scheper designs for collectives and stores alike. Lavena Johanson, 23, on right, visits Red Emma's a few times every week. She attends the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University, where she is a second-year graduate student studying cello. (WTOP/Natalie Plumb)
Books are strewn throughout Red Emma's -- on its shelves, walls and in its windows. (WTOP/Natalie Plumb)
Leroy Keltner, 68, calls Red Emma's "the best thing that's ever happened in Mt. Vernon." He has been a resident of Baltimore's Mt. Vernon district for 38 years. (WTOP/Natalie Plumb)
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Natalie Plumb, special to wtop.com

BALTIMORE, Md. – The smells of coffee grounds and crisp paper fill the air. The shelves are stacked by the hundreds — overflowing with ideologies and philosophies, comics and art — and made by the hands that work here. The designs that fill the windows and counter are the product of an artist who is also a co-founder.

“A labor of love,” Iris Kirsch it.

To the rest of Baltimore, this is Red Emma’s.

The bookstore and coffeehouse is collectively owned by a number of workers — now 14 – – and hosts events, discussions and operates on workplace democracy: the idea that workers can be their own bosses, engage in mature interaction and negotiate without a figurehead.

“I’ve been here for 38 years, and this is the best thing that’s ever happened to Mt. Vernon,” says Leroy Keltner, 68, a regular customer of the store in downtown Baltimore’s Mt. Vernon district.

A tiny space that measures 800 square feet, Red Emma’s is a place for thinkers, activists, coffee drinkers and the like. Any given weekday, 20 to 75 people frequent the business. More stream through on weekends, and often people stumble in for a cup of joe only to encounter political ideologies they never anticipated finding in a bookstore.

The workers, their history and their politics

They don’t go by “employees” and certainly don’t use the word “boss.” They are “workers,” says one of the eight original co-founders of Red Emma’s, Kate Khatib. Four of those eight still work at the enterprise. Baltimore resident Khatib, 35, is one of them.

“Everyone who works behind the counter or volunteers their time has the potential to be an owner,” Khatib explains.

Red Emma’s started after former anarchist bookstore Black Planet Books in Baltimore’s Fells Point district began losing business. Black Planet — known as an infoshop, or community space — operated in a similar way to Red Emma’s, though Emma’s does not “primarily identify as an anarchist bookstore,” Khatib says.

She adds that the idea to create a place like Red Emma’s formed six months after she moved to Baltimore and volunteered at Black Planet.

“We decided, ‘This project isn’t working, nobody ever comes here, we don’t even want to really come here, let’s shut this place down,’ ” Khatib says, speaking of the now-defunct Black Planet, which closed in 2003.

After brainstorming, in 2004, the eight Red Emma’s co-founders and other volunteers opened in a better location in a house on 800 St. Paul Street. Today, Red Emma’s stands not only as a bookstore and infoshop inspired by Black Planet, but also a coffeehouse and caf

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