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Book Lovers Plan to Open Astoria's Only Independent Bookstore

By Ewa Kern-Jedrychowska | November 29, 2012 7:15am

QUEENS — Two city bookworms have a dream, with a heartwarming, novel-worthy plot.

That is, if it works.

Against long odds, Lexi Beach, 32, and her partner Connie Rourke, 34, are making plans to open Astoria's only independent book store.

The duo, encouraged by the success of small booksellers in Brooklyn, is hunting for the right place to set up shop and hosting book events as they map out plans to launch The Astoria Bookshop this spring.

Beach, who has worked for Simon & Schuster and a digital retailer selling audio books, said she believes in the magic of local, independent bookstores and their importance to a community — despite steep competition from Internet sellers and the growing popularity of electronic books.

“An independent bookstore will have a hard time competing with the Internet in terms of prices and in terms of selection,” said Beach. “But customers also want personal attention, they want someone to tell them: 'Here is a great book that I have read and I can tell you if you will like it or not.' ”

The only other independent bookstore in Astoria, Seaburn Bookstore, closed about a year ago, she said.

Still, Beach is optimistic, and points to the success of WORD in Greenpoint and Greenlight Bookstore in Fort Greene as evidence that her plan is more than a pipe dream.

Internet bookstores can’t host book talks or hold story times for kids — two events she intends to build into her business model, she said.

“I have some very good examples to follow in Brooklyn," she said. "There are a couple of new bookstores there that are doing spectacularly well.”

Jenn Northington, event manager at WORD, said independent bookstores still fill an important niche.

"As much as we all use the Internet, people do still love to browse, chat with other readers in person, and find new authors to love, so that's where we come in!" Northington said in an e-mail.

The trick, she said, is to figure out the specific needs of the community.

"For us, that means a lot of paperback literary fiction, narrative nonfiction, fun events, book groups, good children's books," Northington said.

Book lovers and parents from Astoria welcomed the idea.

Evie Hantzopoulos, a mother of three who works at Global Kids, said that if she wants to buy a book, she has to go either to Manhattan or to the Barnes & Noble in Forest Hills.

“It would be great to have an independent bookstore in the neighborhood,” Hantzopoulos said. “Astoria desperately needs it.”

Hantzopoulos said she and her kids are still mourning the loss of Seaburn Bookstore.

“It was a nice community-oriented spot where you could feel comfortable and browse books,” she said. “They also had a nice children's section.”

Beach and Rourke live on Manhattan's Upper East Side. But Beach said she was inspired by a Twitter post that complained: “Why doesn’t someone open a bookstore in Astoria, we read here too?”

She said she immediately started wondering “what it would be like to own a bookstore.”

The biggest challenge has been finding a space that's big enough to host events yet is affordable.

As the search goes on, Beach said they've started organizing book events “to build awareness and to get people engaged” in their plans to open The Astoria Bookshop.

The first one — an evening with Terry Hope Romero, author of “Vegan Eats World,” at the SITE boutique—  was a success, Beach said, even though it coincided with the Nor’easter that hit the city the week after Hurricane Sandy.

The second event, a meeting with Jen Adams, an Astoria resident who wrote "The Books They Gave Me," was held at the Bohemian Hall and Beer Garden on Tuesday night. Adams, along with a bookseller from WORD, talked about the art of giving books this holiday season.

In the meantime, Beach is dreaming about a permanent, "community space" bookstore.

"People can come there and flirt with each other and meet someone to go on a date with, or they can bring their kid for a story hour while they poke around in the stacks a little," she said. "We want to offer that kind of space to the community."