43 community NEW CHAPTER Astoria set to welcome bookstore BY CASEY CIPRIANI Exposed brick. Wooden beams. A children’s story hour with tiaras and tutus. Connie Rourke got goose bumps and her fi ancé Lexi Beach reached over and excitedly took her hand as they described their vision for the bookstore they plan to open this summer in Astoria. The story of the Astoria Bookshop began last summer when Beach saw a tweet from literary agent Sarah LaPolla lamenting the lack of a bookstore in Astoria. A longtime lover of reading, Beach, who was laid off from her job in accounts at Emusic, took an entrepreneurial business course and inspired Rourke to join her in opening an independent bookstore. They created a website and a Twitter handle to start buzz, and news of their endeavor quickly spread throughout Astoria. “The response has been immediate and overwhelming,” said Rourke, 34. Beach and Rourke believe smaller, independent booksellers have a more sustainable business model than larger chain stores. The duo plans to host events featuring Queens-based authors, and has sent out an online survey to gather information on Astoria residents’ reading and shopping habits. “It’s really hard for chain stores to have that community connection,” said Beach, 32. “That’s the value-added service.” Even amid the decline of bookstore chains and the rise of e-books, smaller shops are thriving, according to the American Booksellers Association. The organization’s statistics show that sales among its members grew eight percent last year as 43 new members joined. According to a report by National Real Estate Investor, bookstores saw a 27 percent increase in foot traffi c during the fi rst quarter of 2013. “There’s a lot of doom and gloom expressed but it simply isn’t the case,” said Oren Teicher, CEO of the American Booksellers Association. “New stores are opening.” Beach and Rourke’s store won’t have any local competitors: Astoria has been without a brick-and-mortar bookstore since Seaburn Books closed its doors in early 2011. Beach and Rourke’s shop also will have an online life: They plan to fi ll pickup orders via a website as well as offer e-books through a partnership with Kobo, a universal e-book platform that can be used across multiple ereader devices. “They compliment each other,” Teicher said, noting that many e-reader owners still read paper books and use e-readers for travel instead of hauling large volumes. Rourke and Beach, who have signed a lease on a space at 30-27 31st Street, hope to open in mid-August. Some area residents say they can’t wait to hit the aisles. “On weekends, I would love to go browse a bookstore,” said Chrisanne Grise. “I’m not going to go all the way into Manhattan just to look at books. I miss browsing!” Rourke and Beach are ready to welcome browsers and meet the changing needs of customers, even as some booksellers are headed toward an unhappy ending. “We just have to change the story,” said Beach. RETRO FITNESS RETRO FITNESS CELEBRATES ONE YEAR Retro Fitness celebrated its one-year anniversary with a party. On June 22, the community was treated to a family fun day complete with food, a bounce house, face painting, pony rides and more. In addition, there were contests, prizes and a special appearance by Ultimate Fighting Championship competitor Dennis Bermudez. Retro Fitness is located at 32-32 49th Street in Astoria. To learn more, call 718-473-9737. Fidelia Perez, Owner Alberto Goncalves, Dennis “The Menace” Bermudez, owner Ahmer Kazmi and Edward Poultry. (Top) There was tons of fun stuff for the kids, including face painting. Attendees were able to have fun and work out.
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