Help Locals Start a New Chapter With A Permanent Bookstore

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After two years of hosting pop-up Avoid The Day bookbars at various venues throughout the community, local husband and wife book-and-wine-loving duo, Jianna and Jason Heuer, are ready to turn the page, and open up Rockaway’s first-ever brick-and-mortar bookstore bar and cafe. They recently launched an Indiegogo fundraising campaign, and are reaching out to the community for help to make their dream come true of offering not just a bookstore, but a communal experience they fervently believe will benefit Rockaway at large.

According to Jason Heuer, hosting their recent June pop-up at a Beach 90th Street storefront was the game-changer that gave them the boost to start a new chapter with Avoid The Day.

“We wanted to do a test to see if people would actually respond to a storefront bookstore that sells not just books, but also gift items, apparel and other merchandise. The owner of the building on Beach 90th generously offered his space to us, where we also hosted local art shows, musicians, poets, and a large portion of our display table was dedicated to local authors and photographers. We even got the liquor license to sell beer and wine.

“So this pop-up was the full realization of what we envisioned Avoid The Day’s brick-and-mortar bookbar was going to be like, and the response was overwhelming. People loved it! We were astounded by the number of books we sold,” Heuer ecstatically shared.

When the Heuers' bookbar was recently featured in NY Magazine’s To Do List, the couple got a further boost. “After being featured in NY Magazine, we decided to extend our June pop-up to six weeks, and the reception just grew. From a financial perspective, it seemed like we could actually survive as a business. So based on this last test, we saw that we could move forward and open our very own storefront,” Heuer said.

When asked if he felt an independent community bookstore could thrive in today’s economic climate, Heuer resolutely responded—"yes.” “Independent bookstores have been doing better than the big chains because they foster a sense of community. People like walking into a local bookstore, where they know the owners and can pick up an actual physical book. For the last three years, physical books have been increasing in sales. Prior to that, they had hit a slump when people were purchasing digital books, but now people are going back to buying actual physical books again. There’s something about that tactile, authentic book experience that is making a comeback. Small independent community bookstores are healthy and surviving, and more of them are coming up because again, people want the experience of walking in, lounging on a couch with a glass of wine or coffee, curling up with a good book in a space, where they know the owners and meet other customers walking in. Also, the personal touch of being able to ask the owner to order a particular book they’ve been looking for. This is the intimate experience you can only get in an independent, local community bookstore. Everybody knows they can order it from Amazon and get it in two days, but now people want more of a personal experience, instead of just anonymously clicking a button and finding a box on their doorstep.”

And as for the bookbar concept, Heuer feels there is a special niche. “There’s a niche for bookstore bars because you’re offering both a literary and casual bar experience. Most of the books we’ll be selling are going to be used, so people will also like the idea of a price point that is not just affordable, but sustainable. We’ll also be offering new books, but most of our book inventory will be used and significantly markdown for a bigger value,” he said.

The Heuers set their Indiegogo fundraising goal to $60K, and as of press time, they’ve raised $3,475 and only have 24 days left to reach their goal. However, Heuer said he and his wife are optimistic. “Our daytime jobs (Heuer is a book cover designer, teacher, and artist, and his wife is a clinical social worker) are what’s funding our bookstore right now, but we’re hoping with the fundraiser we will have the funds needed to rent a storefront. The owner who was generous enough to let us use the space for our June pop-up, wants to rent or sell the building, but that’s not in our financial means, at least not now. So we’re proactively looking for a space that we could rent as a storefront,” he said.

The Heuers say that with their brick-and-mortar bookstore bar and cafe, they want to give back to the community. “For every pop-up, we have chosen a local nonprofit to donate part of our proceeds. In the long run, we want to hire local people to help run the bookstore and eventually start a training program to teach local students how to run a small business from top to bottom,” Heuer said.

The husband and wife duo hope to open their brick-and-mortar store by the end of the year. “It will be great if we could open by the holidays, and if not, we’ll just do a pop-up, not losing sight of our ultimate goal. We just want the right space. It’s like buying a house. It takes time to find the one that fits your needs and says, ‘Home,’ and we want Avoid The Day bookstore bar and cafe to feel like home for the community,” Heuer said.

To donate to the Heuers’ Indiegogo fundraising campaign, visit www.indiegogo.com and search for “Avoid The Day in Rockaway at a Bookstore Bar!”

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