Community Rushes to Support Indie After Store Is Flooded

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Caren Lobo, owner with her husband, Richard, of Sarasota News & Books in Sarasota, Florida, supplied BTW with some possible headlines for the story of the store's massive flood on Wednesday, March 27, "How about 'Sarasota News & Books Gives New Meaning to Waterfront Property,' or 'Sarasota Book Store: Newest Snorkeling Destination'?"

Lobo's sense of humor has been tested over the past week since a failed plumbing repair caused a six-inch water main under pressure to explode over the store at 2:30 p.m. on March 27, pumping thousands of gallons of water into the 3,000-square-foot store for 20 minutes. The damage was extensive, including the inventory, walls, bookcases, and equipment. Nearly a foot of water accumulated inside the store, the ceiling over the office collapsed, and 20 employees and customers narrowly escaped injury. The force of the water was so great that books were found floating nearly a block away. Television crews, from SNN, Sarasota's all-news station, and WWSB, the ABC affiliate, featured flood coverage prominently during and after the accident.

For the popular five-year-old downtown bookstore and café, this spring-break period is peak selling time, second only to Christmas. Financially, the damage is enormous. "This is just about as bad a time as there could be for this to happen. But we're incredibly thankful for the outpouring of concern from the community. We are receiving hundreds of e-mails, letters, calls, and offers of support. Phil Delaney, the president of Northern Trust Bank; the editor of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune; and Susan Rife, the book editor for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, have all volunteered to dig in and help. Rick Bragg sent an e-mail. I don't know how he even knew about it."

The store is not open for sales -- 100 percent of the inventory was either doused, submerged, or destroyed by the humidity. But nearly all the store's scheduled events will take place offsite, so patrons will not miss Betty DeGeneres speaking about her relationship with famous daughter Ellen on April 6 or award-winning children's author Walter Dean Myers on April 16, among many others. Special orders can still be filled when customers phone or e-mail the store, and the 15 or so staff people are working and receiving paychecks. "The challenge is to remain calm," Lobo says, "The commitment is there for our employees. We can't cut them off, nor will we."

The Lobos plan to reopen the store in June after the massive cleanup and restoration is completed. The Lobos are also busy with other projects, Sarasota News & Books is a major sponsor of the Sarasota Reading Festival to be held on November 2. They plan to attend BookExpo America in May and were asked months ago to speak at the NAIBA meeting about promotion and marketing. Caren Lobo laughs at the presentation she thought they would give. "I think we'll speak about taking advantage of the hand you're dealt." -- Nomi Schwartz