Local attorney Paul Gattone and social worker Joy Soler are a couple of avowed communists opening a coffeehouse and leftist bookstore in a place where another coffeehouse just died a slow death and, oh yeah, in the midst of an economic plunge.
(Insert own joke here.)
(If you don't, they will.)
These are not humorless commies.
Gattone and Soler "dressed up" for the interview: Gattone, now in private practice doing civil rights and criminal defense, ditched his courthouse lawyer drag for a Black Panther T-shirt. His wife was in a black T-shirt with the store's name and a big red star on the front.
They opened Revolutionary Grounds Books and Coffee in mid-November at 606 N. Fourth Ave. Business was buzzing Thursday afternoon. It's in the space that was occupied by Rainbow Planet Coffeehouse.
Marxist-Leninist Gattone, 47, for many years ran a pro bono legal services practice — Southern Arizona People's Law Center, of which he was the staff attorney, director and grants writer — for a time in this very space.
Socialist-Trotskyite Soler, 40, a career social worker, only recently left social work to run the business.
The place is full of Che Guevara images (Gattone's influence) and some of the owners' favorite lefty books: "Che: A Graphic Biography," "Love Poems" by Pablo Neruda (Soler's pick). But they say a children's book, "Stone Soup," has been the big seller so far.
Q: Were there any big surprises for you in opening a retail business?
Soler: How incredibly hard it is to open a business. The bureaucracy. The rules. People talk about that. I'm a social worker. I've worked with bureaucracy. You can have your belly out to here and they won't give you food stamps. This is a whole different level.
You go into an office, and they say you can't open a business. You come back the next day and they say you have to see somebody else. . . . Eventually (you figure it out for yourself and) they say, "Why didn't you do this in the first place?"
But it's touch and go; some of the people are fantastic. Development Services — (they were) really nice.
Q: How long have you wanted to run a leftist bookstore, and why now of all times?
Gattone: I always did. We talked about it and talked about it for as long as I could remember. I always wanted to have a leftist bookstore. Despite the Internet and all that, I think books are still the way people get their information. So the last couple of years, Joy and I have been talking about it. And the last six or eight months, it all came together.
There's never been a bad time to pursue one's dream. And in this bad economic time, it's a good time to give people guidance.
Q: Are you — two communists — the right people to run a business in bad times in a spot that already failed? And is it an ideological contradiction?
Together: Yes, we are (the right people.)
Soler: Paul's a people's lawyer. I'm a social worker. We're not trying to become millionaires.
Gattone: I'm also a lawyer, run a little law firm. We have a purpose we're trying to serve. It has to stay in business (to do that.)
Q: What would success be?
Gattone: I think we're successful now. I think success would be it (the store) continues, it thrives, it keeps going. But also that there is some contribution to the community. If we were making gobs of money but we weren't contributing to the community, I'd say we weren't succeeding.
Q: What if it does really really well? Will you have a problem with that?
Gattone: I don't think it will be a problem. We have other ideas. Certainly having a larger venue where we could have space (for leftist groups to) hold meetings.
Soler: If it's a cause we support, we give them space.
Gattone: Earth First! did a fundraiser here last week. Pan Left, the media group, has meetings here. City High teachers meet here.
Soler: We have a knitting group that meets here.
Gattone: A group that talks about immigrant rights. . . . It's a place for people to come together. Leftists sometimes just don't fit in places. People seem to feel really comfortable (here).