This article is from Jim Robinson, the new owner of the Carolina Bookstore. We are very grateful that he was able to open up and share his experience throughout the acquisition process and his motivations for purchasing the bookstore.
I trust you’ll find Jim’s journey as interesting as I did. It’s another reminder of how lucky we are to have expats with such varied experiences come together to create a diverse expat community here in Cuenca.
I’m sometimes asked what possessed me to buy the Carolina Bookstore. Let me be clear – it wasn’t to sell books. Books are familiar to me because I’m from a family of readers. But a book vendor I am not.
I’m a retired geologist/water resources specialist that spent his career working as a consultant and government employee. The early part of my career consisted of collecting data. The latter part consisted of researching and reporting on the implications of various types of development proposals.
I first came to Cuenca in 2012 and obtained a resident visa after retiring in 2014. What really interests me are the circumstances surrounding the development of Ecuador’s natural resources, especially its mineral resources.
Normal business evaluation metrics didn’t apply
The purchase of Carolina was more of a seat-of-the-pants decision. The quantitative measures normally assessed as part of a due diligence process either did not exist, or were unverifiable. What the Carolina Bookstore had for sure was its reputation, key staff, loyal clientele, and an informative and entertaining inventory of books.
Added to that was a bit of luck in the form of re-obtaining the store’s original location on Hermano Miguel combined with a waning pandemic and, voila – the table is set for a self-sustaining business that is an asset to the community, customers and its owners. Which, by the way, includes the employees through a profit-sharing plan required by law.
Ulterior Motives as a Geologist/Investor
To be honest, nothing is as engaging to me professionally as exploring for mineral deposits. Determining whether a particular discovery is a suitable location for a mine and then actually putting it into production is not nearly so inspiring. More like work I’d say. When you get right down to it, there is no good place to put a mine in my humble opinion. Some places are better than others for sure.
Ecuador’s mineral struggles
The Carolina Bookstore gives me a front-row seat to the struggle for Ecuador’s mineral wealth that has repeated itself many times the world over in human history. The bookstore provides a vantage point from which to not only inform my own investment decisions, but also inform the ongoing public debate and the decision-makers, i.e., the Ecuadorian citizens.
The stakes are high. At issue is the extent to which Ecuador’s prodigious riches – both tangible and intangible – will be exploited. Ecuador has a $USD 9 billion national debt. Unlike the United States, Ecuador can’t print money. Ecuador’s economy is based on the export of oil, bananas, shrimp, gold, other primary agricultural products and money transfers from Ecuadorian emigrants employed abroad. The Lasso administration sees increased mineral resource development as an essential element toward meeting revenue goals.
Indeed, circumstances where rational, sustainable development do exist. They must. If the world is to have a reduced carbon future it’s going to need Ecuador’s copper, zinc, lead, tin, etc. Not to mention the gold and silver. No matter your opinion on climate change, the growing demand for “battery metals” is unquestionable. So, it’s not a question of whether or not Ecuador will develop its mineral resources. The question is: where and how?
Two large-scale mines, both located in Zamora-Chinchipe Province, were put into production during the Moreno administration: Mirador, a Chinese-owned open-pit copper mine, began production in June 2019, and Fruta del Norte mine, a Canadian-registered company traded on the Toronto stock exchange began production in November 2019. The new Lasso administration has an expressed goal of putting into production four large-scale mines by 2025 – a heavy lift for the nascent Ministry of Mines.
Compared to other well-known South American mining jurisdictions like Peru and Chile, Ecuador is relatively unexplored. Many world-class discoveries have been and will be made in Ecuador over the coming decades. Only a few will become profitable, tax-paying mines owing to difficulties associated with discovering, developing, financing, permitting, building, operating and reclaiming a mine. Commodities like minerals, petroleum and clean water can be assigned a value.
But how do you confidently assign a value to a cancer drug that has yet to be discovered, or a unique habitat, or a sacred aboriginal site? These decisions belong to Ecuador’s greatest asset – its people.
What’s Next for the Carolina Bookstore?
What makes the Carolina Bookstore unique is that it offers books, both in English and Spanish, on what makes Ecuador, Ecuador.
As a business, the organizational goal is to provide information and entertainment to a broad spectrum of clientele. Under that overarching goal, one of the primary objectives is to provide useful information to expats who are considering or who have decided to make Cuenca, or any part of Ecuador, their home.
Education and informing decisions are central to the Carolina business model and their target audience is both expats and Ecuadorians. Currently, the primary source of revenue is through the sale of used books and maps at its brick and mortar location in El Centro on Hermano Miguel.
Future plans call for expansion and refinement of the online store, as well as the development of a web portal through which internet-accessible maps will be made available.
Reading groups, book readings, topical in-person classes (pandemic permitting) will be used to publicize and inform a wider audience about the cultural and natural values that are within Ecuador, and the ongoing debate regarding the management of its natural resources.
Carolina Bookstore + YapaTree
Thanks again to Jim for sharing his journey so far.
YapaTree welcomes the continued involvement of Carolina Bookstore on our YapaTree Discount Card. They are one of the oldest running partners on the card and we’re really looking forward to seeing how their business unfolds over the following years.
The early signs are very promising. We haven’t seen the bookstore in such good shape the entire 3 years we’ve been in Cuenca. In a digital age, it’s so nice to have a quality, physical bookstore on our doorstep where we can quietly browse & discover interesting books.
On a personal level, I appreciate learning more about Ecuador’s mineral resource plight. Mining is such an emotionally charged and complex topic that many expats (and locals) sometimes struggle to see both sides. Nobody likes mining, but we all like our fancy new iPhones & other ‘necessities’ that are only possible because of similar mining operations.
So thank you Jim for raising this topic and we’re looking forward to more contributions from you.
Where to find Carolina Bookstore
Carolina Bookstore is located on Hermano Miguel 4-46. Just up from the corner of Calle Larga y Hermano Miguel.
You can currently get 10% off books with your GringoTree/YapaTree card at Carolina Bookstore.