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Rainy Faye Bookstore & Gallery: Vendor for IMPAC-CSU Young Writers Events 

From Bridgeport; Reading Globally, Buying Locally

The New York Times,
Copyright 2003
March 16, 2003

GEORGIA F. DAY was frustrated with always having to go outside of Bridgeport to do her book shopping.

At the same time, business leaders in the city believed an independent bookstore would be another ingredient for the downtown area's revitalization.

A resulting convergence of the parties has led to the opening next month of Rainy Faye, the first full-service bookstore in the state's most populated city in a decade.

The store is owned by Dr. Day, an assistant academic vice president at Fairfield University, who is an admitted bookstore junkie who always wanted her own business.

"When I travel, no matter where I go, I always go to a bookstore," she said. "Being inside of a bookstore is a whole new world."

Dr. Day, who is also the co-host of two local radio shows, said the store's location alone, at 940 Broad Street, could make Rainy Faye a success. It is situated directly across from the main branch of Bridgeport's public library, with its 5,000 visitors a week, and near the Housatonic Community College, with 4,500 students and a faculty of nearly 200.

"This seems to be the right spot at the right time and the right thing for me," she said.

Dr. Day said the store will carry an eclectic selection of books and newspapers. She also plans to have appearances by authors, art exhibitions, live comedy, poetry, storytelling and jazz, adding that there will be an emphasis on affordable pricing and customer service.

"I'm going to become their personal valet and try and to get them something in 24 hours if we don't have it," Dr. Day said, referring to the customers.

Although there are specialty bookstores in the city, Bridgeport-- where the Walden bookstore chain was founded -- has been without a full-service store since a Barnes &Noble that served as the University of Bridgeport's bookstore closed in 1993.

"I just think it's appalling that the biggest city in the state hasn't had a full-service book store," said Michael A. Golrick, Bridgeport's chief librarian. "There are three schools in the city that have fallen below all of the state testing standards for math, reading and writing.

"It is a demonstrable fact that kids who read more will write better. The fact that we haven't a book store has decreased their opportunities to buy books."

Experts in both the book industry and economic planning contend that the locating of bookstore chains in suburban malls has left many cities in a similar situation.

Daniel B. Houston, a partner in Civic Economics, a planning and consulting firm in Austin and Chicago that has studied the effects of bookstores on local economies, said Rainy Faye could be good for Bridgeport.

"Nobody from a small community is going to drive past one book store to go to another, unless there is something special," he said. "In Bridgeport, and other cities like it, the goal is not to copy suburban retail. The goal is to be something different, something that is intrinsically better."

Mr. Houston said that for each dollar taken in, independent owners like Dr. Day put roughly 45 cents back into the local economy, as compared with 13 cents by a chain store.

"They have local accountants, use local banks, have local lawyers and spend on local advertising," he said. "They spend a lot of money that disappears overnight if you shop in a chain store."

The American Booksellers Association, which is in Tarrytown, N.Y., and represents more than half of the 2,500 independent booksellers in the nation, said marketing ideas like Dr. Day's had stabilized the industry in the last three years.

"A lot of the independent are just becoming smarter marketers," said Michael F. Hoynes, the association's marketing officer. "They're becoming better at database management and customers service."

Dr. Day's new neighbors believe the store will enhance the area.

Mr. Golrick has already met with Dr. Day about coordinating events. He said the store would help promote literacy and learning in the city and draw more authors to the library for speaking engagements.

"The bookstore will probably advertise itself as being across from the library, he said. "So I'll get a little piece of that, too."

Mr. Golrick also noted that an independent store would be especially beneficial.

"Independent bookstores are really important because they don't have the purchasing decisions made far away," he said. "Those local decisions can reflect the local community and its needs."

Housatonic Community College officials believe the store will enhance the students' experience.

"The mark of any vibrant college is the type of commercial development that springs up around it, especially bookstores and various arts centers," said Anson C. Smith, a spokesman for the college. "It sounds like Rainy Faye is going to be just that type of venue."

Philip J. Kuchma, the president of the Kuchma Corporation, which manages the Broad Street property for Peoples Bank, used a consultant to determine if a bookstore could work downtown.

He said the store must rely heavily on community outreach and product turnover to attract customers.

"It is incumbent upon the people who said we needed this to support it," Mr. Kuchma said.

Dr. Day does face challenges, however. With large retailers and supermarkets also selling books, independents now control only 15 percent of the market, according to the American Booksellers Association. More than half of the nation's independent bookstores have closed in the last decade.

Yet, after exhaustingly researching the project, Dr. Day remains positive.

"There's a particular type of person that goes to the independent bookstore," she said. "We have Stop and Shop, and yet I still shop at a small grocery store, only because of the customer service and the fact that there is a limited menu and I know exactly where to go. I think that will happen here

"Truthfully, already the space is too small," she added. "I need a new place already. I see it growing."

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