As a college town, Bloomington has more than its fair share of bookstores, but Boxcar Books, 408 E. 6th St., next to the Runcible Spoon café, is the only one that’s primarily volunteer run and has a mission beyond selling books.

“We provide an outlet for small, indie press materials that you can’t find anywhere else,” says Abbey Friedman, Boxcar’s buyer and only paid employee [in 2009]. “We also provide community space in the store free of charge.” Individuals and groups can use Boxcar to host book launches, poetry readings, activist meetings, art shows, and music and theater performances.

Another way Boxcar serves the greater community is through the Midwest Pages to Prisoners Project. Many of the used-book donations given to Boxcar eventually find their way to prisoners throughout the Midwest.

“We don’t carry ‘grocery store’ fiction like Dean Koontz or Michael Crichton,” says Friedman. “The majority is nonfiction.” Boxcar is lined, from floor to ceiling, with approximately 10,000 titles split evenly between new and used. Two of the largest sections are devoted to gender studies and to promoting a green lifestyle.

Boxcar originally opened just south of downtown on Washington Street in 2002 and relocated in August 2008. With greater proximity to IU, the store now sells textbooks as well.

Boxcar also carries “zines”—publications independently produced by individuals on a low budget. Their content ranges from journals to comics. “Zines take the high art of producing something and bring it down to the grass-roots level,” says Steven Stothard, Boxcar’s general coordinator, who adds that Boxcar has become one of the highest-volume zine sellers in the country.