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    Monday, March 04, 2024

    New London bookstore with a social justice flavor to close next month

    Deborah Rolon, an employee at the Title IX: A Bookstore shop on State Street in New London browses shelves of inventory on Thursday, Sept. 21, 2023. The store will close on Oct. 1. (John Penney/The Day)
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    The Title IX: A Bookstore shop on State Street in New London, shown here on Thursday, Sept. 21, 2023, will close on Oct. 1. (John Penney/The Day)
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    New London ― Deborah Rolon sat behind a desk at the Title IX: A Bookstore shop on Thursday morning surrounded by neat stacks of hardcovers and relayed the news to a customer that the downtown location would close next month.

    “It’s sad and a little disappointing,” the 23-year-old New London resident said, showing off rows of pre-teen and young adult books lining shelves in one of the store’s two cozy display rooms. “A lot of customers can’t or don’t drive and my biggest fear is for those people not being able to get out and buy books.”

    The shop, which specializes in social justice offerings, will close on Oct. 1 after a nearly three-year run at its 345 State St. location, a few steps from the Garde Arts Center.

    Owner Annie Philbrick informed customers the store’s shuttering was prompted by a need to reallocate “resources and efforts into ensuring the long-term sustainability” of her flagship, store Bank Square Books in Mystic.

    “We understand that this news is difficult and will likely come as a disappointment to the community, Philbrick wrote in a social media statement earlier this month.

    The New London closure will mark the second of Philbrick’s bookstores to close this year. The Savoy Bookshop & Café in Westerly closed in July after seven years of operation.

    In a community notice, Philbrick said a host of “insurmountable hurdles” ― annual deficits, “fierce” online competition, increasing costs ― led to the Rhode Island store’s closure.

    “It’s a frustrating and unfortunate reality that many independent bookstores face,” she wrote.

    Philbrick, who could not be reached to comment this week, said the New London store opened in November 2020 as part of a “citywide pop-up initiative” ― similar to the seasonal Halloween shops that occupy vacant storefronts during the fall ― with the goal of serving the city’s “diverse community of New London with a specially curated collection of books that focus on investigating, informing, and inspiring social justice.”

    Rolon said she started working at the New London store in 2021 after her mother, who worked the Garde box office for years, suggested applying at the new business.

    “It was a wonderful environment, so homey,” she said near a table holding new book releases. "I feel our new and returning customers recognized this place as a safe space to unwind. New London, unlike a lot of towns, has made a lot of progress recognizing the diversity of community.“

    The store is named for the Educational Amendments of 1972 that prohibited sex-based discrimination in any school or any other education program that receives federal funding.

    In addition to a traditional stock of fiction, romance, fantasy and non-fiction titles, a portion of the store’s inventory reflects the theme of its moniker with shelves set aside for topics on racial studies, activism, feminism and LGBTQ+ issues.

    “For a month celebrating disability awareness, we’d highlight books written by authors with disabilities,” Rolon said, not far from a sticker with the recommendation to “Read banned books.”

    The business also created the Bookstore Community Fund program to increase affordable access to new books for all readers through the use of gift cards purchased through donations. Philbrick said the “pay-it-forward" book program will continue at the Mystic location.

    Jeanne Sigel, development director for the Garde Arts Center and a close friend of Philbrick for decades, said her organization, which owns the bookstore building ― informally known as The Cottage ― is still mulling over what will replace the shop.

    Sigel said she reached out to Philbrick in 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic was waning to let her know the city was offering financial assistance to business owners willing to create “pop-up” stores.

    “The city at the time was looking at ways to brighten up the downtown for people,” Sigel said. “The idea was for the store to only be open for a couple of months and the fact that Annie kept it going for so many years is amazing.”

    j.penney@theday.com

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