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Sarasota Friday, Aug. 14, 2009 5 years ago

Supporters vow to save iconic bookstore

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by: Robin Roy City Editor

In the age of online social networking, it should come as no surprise that when a few Sarasotans heard about financial trouble at Sarasota News and Books word spread quickly on the Facebook Web site.

A Facebook group called “Save Sarasota News and Books” popped up late Friday afternoon and, within about four hours, more than 200 people signed up as group members.

Andrew Foley, co-owner of Sarasota News and Books, said the economic downturn has affected his business. Not as many people are buying books these days. He began telling employees this week that he may have no choice but to close the Main Street mainstay.

Phil Chmieleski, chairman of the Downtown Partnership, sent a Facebook message asking people to meet at 4:30 p.m. Friday, at the bookstore, to rally for it to stay open.

“Sarasota News and Books is so special,” said Chmieleski. “Everybody is saying, ‘It can’t close.’ It’s the ‘Cheers’ of coffee shops — everybody knows your name.”

By 5:15 p.m,. more than a dozen people had viewed the rally call and showed up at the bookstore. They included former county commissioner and current Florida House candidate Ray Pilon, Public Art Committee Chairwoman Virginia Hoffman, Lotus owner Wendy Getchell and Sarasota author Lisa Daily.

“I launched two books here and wrote half of one sitting at one of those tables," Daily said. “(If it closed) I would be devastated.”

Said Ray Pilon: “This is a mainstay of lower Main Street. It’s one of those things in a community that defines the community.”

“It’s my hangout, my office,” joked downtown resident Roger Barry. “I’d be crushed if it shut down. I have coffee here three to five times a week.”

Many of those who gathered at the bookstore Friday evening vowed to help keep the doors open. Some bought coffee. Some bought books. Some even volunteered to clean the floors free of charge.

Erica Sirotich saw the Facebook call to arms and left her Lakewood Ranch office early.

“We thought, “What could we do?’” she said. “I can’t even imagine Sarasota News and Books not being here. There’s nothing like this place anywhere in Sarasota.”

Foley, who continues to try to find a way to keep his business open, was touched by the show of support.

“Sometimes you get so caught up in the day-to-day that you lose sight of how much people love it here,” he said.

Contact Robin Roy at rroy@yourobserver.com.

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