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'We're not in it for the money'

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His wife grew up in this town of 3,500, a bedroom community 25 minutes from Hartford; he's from the next town over. When the couple moved from Maine, four years ago, Tarr was struck by the lack of things to do in Broad Brook's sliver of a downtown.

"I was adrift and I needed something to do," says Tarr, an English literature major, with a penchant for philosophy, who has always had a "veritable bookstore" in his house. "And this town needed something. So it seemed like the right thing to do."

Other nascent booksellers also talk of filling a community need – by invigorating a sleepy hamlet or revitalizing an urban center – and being met with appreciation.

Fox Tale Books owner Mary McHale imagines she may be able to help give the 2,200 person town of New Durham, N.H., a heart. "Hopefully this will be a starting point," she says. "In some ways, we're like suburbia because everyone has to get in their car to go places." Her bookstore, where the coffee is free, may change that.

At the other end of the spectrum, in the middle of recently hip and thriving downtown Los Angeles, is Julie Swayze's Metropolis Books. Opened last month on a strip that she says was once referred to as the demilitarized zone, Ms. Swayze sees both arty loft-dwellers and homeless residents of the nearby Midnight Mission as part of her customer base.

Broad Brook Books, meanwhile, opened in August, in the 150-year-old red brick building owned by Tarr's mother-in-law, who is also his partner. Monthly rent just covers taxes and utilities, which may be key to staying open.

In the training seminars that her bookstore-consulting company conducts, Donna Paz Kaufman says she advises would-be owners to buy their own building. "Real estate is one of the biggest hurdles," she says. Business at Paz & Associates has held steady over the past 15 years, with about 300 prospective booksellers requesting information each year.

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