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Effort to lure bookstore to Watertown gains steam as organizers get word out

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After launching a Facebook page last summer to drum up support, a group of book lovers remains focused on luring a big bookstore, such as Barnes & Noble or Books-A-Million, to Watertown.

The group now is making alliances with economic development specialists in the community to back the cause.

Group leaders Cathy M. Anderson and Hope I. Marston — members of a writers group that meets at the North Country Arts Council on Public Square — recently met with staff from the Jefferson County Industrial Development Agency to beef up their recruitment efforts.

The meeting spurred the group to develop a business portfolio to whet the appetites of those who select sites for bookstores. The portfolio will include community information, articles and letters of support. JCIDA will compile statistics about the region to attract potential investors.

Mrs. Anderson said the next step will be to meet with management at Salmon Run Mall for feedback on whether a store could open there.

Borders had a bookstore at the mall from 2002 until 2011, when the chain went out of business. Borders subsidiary Waldenbooks had a store at the mall from the late 1980s to the early 2000s. Lauriat’s Inc. had a bookstore at the mall from 1986, the year the mall opened, until 1998.

Barnes & Noble prefers freestanding stores, Mrs. Anderson said, but other chains, such as Books-A-Million, might be interested in the mall.

“We want to see if the mall has done anything, if they have more information,” she said. “If they’ve talked to someone (from a bookstore) and said no, learn why they said no. We want to be equipped to talk to prospects in order to tell them the cold, hard facts.”

Meanwhile, the group has continued to generate interest with its Facebook page, which as of Thursday had been “liked” by 711 people: www.facebook.com/pages/Help-Watertown-NY -Recruit-a-Bookstore/358777414200297.

The hot topic now being discussed on the site is a plan by Watertown resident Andrew J. Garza to start an independent bookstore this summer in the Franklin Building on Public Square.

Mr. Garza, who could not be reached for comment Thursday, has launched a website to raise $10,000 to bolster his effort. On his website, the proposed bookstore is described as a hub for community activities: writing classes, book clubs, author signings, art showcases, story hours and open-mic nights.

So far, $285 has been donated to his campaign. The website says the money will go toward signing a lease, designing a space, building inventory, buying furnishings and marketing.

Mrs. Anderson said Mr. Garza told her that “the campaign for the $10,000 would help involve the community and open something this summer.”

“If he opens it up, that would be great, but we’re still going to be looking to get a chain here,” Mrs. Anderson said.

Ongoing efforts led by Mrs. Anderson to gain traction in the community include sending letters of support to bookstores and distributing fliers and bookmarks to stores. Supporters of the effort include Flower Memorial Library, Jefferson Community College, Samaritan Medical Center, Kinney Drugs and Panera Bread.

Ceaselessly optimistic, Mrs. Anderson said she plans to continue drumming up support until a big bookstore is willing to listen.

“I’m not willing to stop what I’m doing, because I don’t know where it’s going to go,” she said. “We still haven’t heard anything from anyone, but we are now networking to get to the right people who select sites and do surveys” for bookstores.

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