Slopers band together to save ‘Community’ effort

for The Brooklyn Paper
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One of Park Slope’s favorite bookshops is not about to turn its final page.

In mid-February, an employee at Community Bookstore set off a frenzy by mistakenly sending 1,500 customers a draft e-mail from owner Catherine Bohne, saying the cash-strapped shop was about to close.

Minutes later, Bohne sent out a second e-mail saying the initial missive was a mistake, just the result of a passing fit of desperation that can overcome a bookstore owner from time to time.

But despite Bohne’s denial, many people who received the e-mails thought the writing was on the computer screen for their favorite bookstore, hangout and unofficial community center.

Scads of neighbors rushed to offer their support for the struggling Bohne.

“I just had this meltdown and I said, ‘I’m exhausted,’” she said.

The e-mail so stirred 12 long-time customers that they started donating their time and expertise to reviving the Seventh Avenue shop.

“This one amazing woman was like, ‘You’ve looked after this neighborhood for years, and now it’s time the neighborhood looked out for you,’” Bohne said.

Where Bohne has spent most of her career around tomes of poetry and best-sellers, the store’s new advisory board members are financial analysts, marketing experts and business leaders. They started meeting in March.

“We’re all volunteering to do this,” said Jennifer Einhorn, a longtime fan of the shop. “The bookstore is a core piece of the entire community.”

Next week, the new advisory board plans to make public its still-secret scheme to save the store.

The obvious problem, Bohne said, remains a lack of capital — money to restock the shelves, and thus sell more books.

Small bookstores have never been big money-makers, but competing against mega-retailers and on-line bookstores has nearly sunk the tiny shop, which is between Carroll and Garfield streets.

Many independent bookstores around the country have banded together to form joint Internet sites. But Bohne said her store is in such financial straits that it can’t afford to even build a Web site.

Bohne’s desperation was always about the money, not about her neighbors, she stressed.

“We’ve always been like another room in people’s houses, you know. We used to have a drawer that people kept their spare house keys in,” she said on Monday.

The store looked after sick pets, countless children and acted as mailing address for people between homes, said Bohne, who bought the store in August, 2001 after spending six years as an employee.

After 9-11, the shop was the unofficial headquarters for Park Slope’s relief efforts, its front window covered with notices of meetings, news items and ways to volunteer. But when the dust settled, the store’s finances began a “slow bleed,” Bohne said.

The bleeding hasn’t stopped yet, Bohne warned, but help is on the way.

The outpouring of support makes even Bohne’s competitors feel that she’ll ride out the bad times.

“I opened this store knowing in advance that it’s not going to be a big money-making thing,” said Adam Tobin, who founded Unnameable Books, on Bergen Street between Fifth and Flatbush avenues, almost a year ago.

Like Bohne, Tobin said he doesn’t consider the chains like Borders and Barnes and Noble true competition.

“We do something very different than what they do,” he said. “It’s a very neighborhoody place here.”

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