History of SCW

SCW Founders

Syracuse Cultural Workers was founded in 1982 to continue publishing the Peace Calendar, which had been founded and coordinated by Dik Cool while on staff at the Syracuse Peace Council (SPC). Dik began the Peace Calendar with the 1972 edition (see the excellent history by Linda Perla in the 1996 Peace Calendar); the first 11 editions (through the 1982 American Myths) were published by SPC. In July 1982 the SPC Steering Committee decided not to do another edition. Dik and four others (Karen Kerney, Linda Perla, Jack Manno and Jan Phillips) decided they wanted to continue the tradition and SCW was born!

The Grassroots/Dandelion Collective’s houses (102 and 104 Avondale Place) provided the first offices for SCW. Dandelion (Karen Mihalyi’s house) was SCW’s first home ($50/month rent!). After 6 months SCW moved to “more spacious quarters” next door in Grassroots where Dik and Linda Perla lived. By 1985, SCW had taken over Grassroots’ first floor so we moved to the second floor of the nearby Women’s Information Center. We moved to 1419 E. Fayette Street in 1987. This move wasn’t easy ­but that’s another story.

SCW Old Building

SCW's home from 1987-2002. The upstairs walls were compressing from the weight of the stored products in the attic! We got out just in time!

The addition of several key staff (Karen Kerney, Donna Tarbania, John Faley), a larger format catalog with the addition of 8 more pages in 1999/2000, renewed attention to defining and building up our customer base, and several strong products (notably, How to Build Community) combined to produce a remarkable financial improvement. By the summer of 2002 we were sufficiently stable to move to a commercial building (at 400 Lodi St.) with warehouse and store space.

In 2005 we expanded the picking/scale area in the warehouse and Dik purchased the commercial building at 505 Hawley. This was immediately used for warehouse storage and in 2007 became home to ArtRage, The Norton Putter Gallery. 

Like many other businesses and people, the depression of 2007/8 hit SCW very hard. We were forced to lay off staff and reduce wages and benefits. SCW stayed afloat only because of Dik’s willingness to take on more debt and stop receiving a salary, and the willingness of the employees who stayed on to receive less compensation. That belt tightening allowed us to stay open, but sales continued to decrease during the Obama presidency (we tend to sell more when right wing governments control Washington).

In 2014 Andy Mager joined the staff bringing his diverse skills and political analysis to the business. Sales to museums, stores and organizations increased significantly in the following years. In 2015-16 we finally stabilized our sales and began to make some profit, allowing us to begin paying off creditors. Trump’s election caused a large increase in business which allowed us to pay off much of our remaining debt and invest in our aging infrastructure.

Although our proactive policies prevented the COVID pandemic from causing serious illness among our staff, it hurt business hard the first few months. The racial justice uprising in response to George Floyd’s murder on May 25, 2020 led to a surge in sales which helped us make it through difficult times. The 2020 election of Joe Biden, which we heartily supported, also led to our typical sales slump when a Democratic President replaces a rightwing Republican. We continue strategizing about how to change that pattern.

Early in 2021 we began discussions about transforming the business from a sole proprietorship owned by Dik Cool to a worker cooperative. That process continued for two years until the spring of 2023 when we realized that declining sales threatened the future of the business. That process was put on hold so we could focus on increasing sales, improving marketing and becoming more efficient. We seek to create a more sustainable base for this small business so that we can continue playing a role to support movements, activists and artists bringing to life the world we envision for ourselves and the generations to come.

On November 9, 2023, Dik Cool, SCW's visionary and guiding light, passed away after many years of fighting prostate cancer. While Dik is sorely missed, we are working hard to find paths forward to continue his legacy of linking art and activism.

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