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Checkbooks are opening for these bookstores

Small newspapers and bookstores, it seems to me, have had a lot in common in the new economy of the digital age: We survive as endangered.

Print newspaper advertising and brick and mortar bookstores have been struggling mightily against cheaper digital alternatives.

So mix in the economic trauma of a pandemic, which has slammed shut most retail doors and closed so many businesses that buy newspaper ads, and the danger turns to peril.

Indeed, it's not one of the bold-faced numbers we see regularly in the pandemic tallies, but the number of failing newspapers around the country is growing daily.

On the bright side, though, is what we are learning around here, that local bookstores and the region's largest daily newspaper have another thing in common: Customer loyalty.

Both The Day and a pair of local bookstores, Bank Square Books of Mystic and Savoy Bookshop and Café in Westerly, have started fundraisers to help get to the other side of this crisis, turning to customers for donations.

I heard one editor of The Day suggest that the comments of gratitude for local reporting that accompany many of the donations are more satisfying than the money.

Annie Philbrick, owner of Bank Square and Savoy, said she, too, has been overwhelmed by the generosity of the donations and the kind wishes sent by customers.

Soliciting donations was a "hard ask to put out there," she said, "but we want to be here when this pandemic is over."

The stores' GoFundMe campaign, at bit.ly/bsbfund, had raised more than $35,000 from more than 400 donors by Friday afternoon.

Some of the donations are small but there are many in the hundreds of dollars.

I was struck by the fierce loyalty to their local bookstore you hear in the comments of donors. You also can feel in the comments the anguish bookstore shoppers fear if they are forced to buy only online.

One donor who identified himself as a "grateful browser" chipped in $1,000.

Another donor said she has only visited each store once but was impressed with the way someone helped her toddler pick out a book. She gave $20.

The donors' comments suggest that, the governor's order notwithstanding, bookstores are essential businesses, after all.

Philbrick bought the Mystic store, which opened in 1998, in 2006. Savoy opened in 2016.

She said they had 35 employees when the pandemic closed the doors. They have kept five on the payroll, putting the rest on furlough, and remain in business, taking orders online at banksquarebooks.com and over the phone for curbside pickup and deliveries.

Signs encourage shop window browsers to call or order online what they see that they like.

Philbrick herself is the delivery driver, touring the region afternoons for book drop-offs.

The orders have been steady, she said, with kids' books and puzzles being big sellers.

"It's not at all what sales are when the doors are open, but it is going to keep us going, with the (small business) loans, GoFundMe and gifts," she said.

The experience is a bit strange, she adds, moving to contactless sales, since the bookstore is all about community and interaction, meeting authors in person, discovery while browsing the shelves.

The landlords in Mystic and Westerly have both agreed to help the store through the shutdown, Philbrick said.

Philbrick said the Mystic store flooded during Superstorm Sandy, but this is very different because there seems to be no end in sight.

"The thing is the tide came in and went out then, and I knew what we had to do," she said. "The tide is still here now."

This is the opinion of David Collins.

d.collins@theday.com

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