When Borders bookstore closed at Salmon Run Mall in Watertown last summer, avid readers in the community felt as if a rug had been yanked out from under them.
Along with having shelves stocked with the latest bestsellers, the large store was a cozy social venue for bookworms.
That void has inspired a Watertown resident to start a quest on Facebook to persuade a bookstore to move to the city.
Cathy M. Anderson, a member of a writers group that meets once a month at the North Country Arts Council on Public Square, said she was inspired with the idea after talking with her friends about their symptoms of “bookstore withdrawal.” Her solution? Launch a Facebook page for residents to rally enough support to get the attention of giant booksellers such as Barnes & Noble or Books-A-Million.
So Mrs. Anderson, who is Facebook savvy, launched a group site Tuesday morning titled “Help Watertown, NY Recruit a Bookstore.” When she came home from her job as a social worker at Samaritan Medical Center, she checked the page and was shocked by the results.
“I had only emailed a couple of friends about it, but people were pouring in on the site,” she said. “It wasn’t just the people I know, but others who want a bookstore here.”
Tallying 327 “likes” by Thursday afternoon, the page so far seems to be generating interest by the hour. The site urges its followers to send emails and letters to bookstore franchises and the local media to drum up support. Comments from a handful of people indicate they’ve already done so.
If anything, the site has shown that Facebook can be an effective venue for grass roots activism.
“Our core group is committed to seeing this through,” said Mrs. Anderson, who sees the Facebook page as a megaphone to get booksellers to listen. “We’re hopeful to attract someone who wants to open here.”
Readers in the city seeking to get their hands on books have few options: the used bookstore A Second Look at 152 Court St., chain department stores such as Walmart and Target, or Flower Memorial Library, 229 Washington St.
Mrs. Anderson contends there is a wealth of vacant spots for a bookstore to set up shop here. She cited a new building at outer Arsenal Street and County Route 202 with vacant spots for rent. But she doesn’t think Salmon Run Mall, where Borders was, would necessarily be a good fit.
“We’ve been told Barnes & Noble likes to own their own property,” she said. “We’re looking for a large store or even a mom-and-pop one, although not as many people do that now.”
The conundrum for booksellers today is competing with online stores, which was illustrated by Borders’s bankruptcy last year. Stores that haven’t adapted by offering ebooks and online marketplaces are at a disadvantage.
Even Mrs. Anderson admits she regularly buys books on Amazon. But she insists her online buying habits would change if the city drew a store.
“It’s not the same experience online,” she said. “I have a great respect for books, and I like to see a book and open it.”
She said bookstores with places for people to meet for lively discussions have an intangible value for customers that can’t be measured in dollars and cents. Bringing back a venue for those experiences, she said, is the driving force behind the Facebook project.
“Some of us used to meet at Borders just to talk about our writing, and that’s a big part of what we’re missing,” she said.
By providing an easy way for people to show strength in numbers, Facebook has even become a vehicle for revolutions in third-world countries. By harnessing that kind of potential, Mrs. Anderson said, Watertown residents could attract a bookstore.
“I noted on the site that it’s going to take a lot of effort and time,” she said. “I’d like to see things happen quickly, but I’m willing for it to take months if it has to.”
Visit the Facebook page here: www.facebook.com/pages/Help-Watertown-NY-Recruit-a-Bookstore/358777414200297