The co-owners of the borough’s only independent bookstore plan to open in August.
Newlyweds Connie Rourke and Lexi Beach signed the lease on a brand-new space at 31-27 31 St. last week. In the summer months to come they plan to wrestle with paint swatches, decide whether to have a store cat and fill the space with shelves and books for the launch of the Astoria Bookshop.
Beach and Rourke, a former publishing house events coordinator and a college admission manager, respectively, have a “no judgement book policy.”
“Twilight” fans come on in — Hemingway enthusiasts welcomed as well.
“The business approach for independent bookstores has changed in the last 10, even five years,” Beach said. “There’s e-books and e-commerce. You can’t depend on people loving books and that’s it.”
In February they put out a survey asking people to list their favorite genres. The usual suspects arose with fiction, romance, cookbooks and history, but one unexpected write-in submission repeated on many surveys was that individuals wanted to read plays.
“It’s not too surprising since Astoria has a huge performing arts population,” Beach said. “I would be thrilled to have a designated theater section.”
The couple — who list the “Princess Bride” and “A Tale of Two Cities” as their favorite books — live on the Upper East Side, but have connections to the nabe through friends and relatives who live there.
“You can’t close your eyes to what people want,” Rourke said. “It’s about data management.”
To cater to the thespian population Beach and Rourke want to host readings of plays. Other events the duo plans to schedule are regular children’s story hours and book signings, and they even like the Strand’s literary speed dating idea. Several knitting groups have reached out to the shop about gathering there.
“Astoria and the borough of Queens desperately need this kind meeting place,” said Newtown Literary founder Tim Fredrick. Newtown Literary, the borough’s first journal, launched last summer. Fredrick sees the bookstore as a place for contributors to meet as well as a place to purchase the collection of short stories and poems. A second edition will be released next week.
“Reading aloud is so important ... it’s not done enough,” said business owner Jennifer Dudek. Dudek and her husband own the relatively new ice cream shop, Malu, in Long Island City. The business is slowly expanding with a similar model of lots of children’s activities including storytime as well as cross promotions with neighboring stores.
Cross promotions will be important, such as hosting flower workshops with accompanying books along with the florist next door.
All this will help the Astoria Bookshop survive, Beach and Rourke said.
They acknowledge the pressure Amazon.com and e-books in general have on a bookstore, but note that it can work. They cite independent books shops such as Word in Greenpoint and the Community Bookstore in Park Slope, which have plans to expand.
“I’ve been talking to them throughout the process of them looking for space and it sounds like they found just the right situation,” Word co-owner Christine Onorati said. “I think they’ve done their homework and are completely ready to do what it takes to start a community bookstore. There are no secrets to success, just hard work.”
Astoria’s last bookshop, Seaburn Bookstore, didn’t fare so well and closed December 2011.
But Beach and Rourke are confident.
“You make it a meeting space,” Beach said, “an extension of people’s homes — very warm and welcoming.”