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The novel resurgence of independent bookstores

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Last October, when superstorm Sandy ripped through Connecticut, it flooded Bank Square Books in Mystic. Owner Annie Philbrick recalls walking inside to the smell of the ocean and a soaking wet carpet.

She and her staff had moved everything as high as they could before the storm, but water and paper are a disastrous combination. With no power to turn on pumps or fans, Ms. Philbrick was in danger of losing her stock of more than 30,000 books.

She put out an update on her Facebook page: We have to get these books out of here or we're going to lose them all. The volunteers started arriving. Philbrick's neighbors and customers helped the staff load 400 packing crates of books – enough to fill two Mayflower moving vans.

After the walls and floors had been repaired, more volunteers showed up to carry the books back inside the store. They loaded cards on spinner racks, dropped off cookies, and cleaned the windows and the floor. A PayPal Sandy Relief Fund raised $7,000 – enough for Philbrick to pay the movers and her staff.

The Heupels – Eric, Tammy, and their 12-year-old son, Johann – arrived to help the shop where Johann has attended "story time" since he was 3. Eric took a day off work to ferry crates, while Tammy and Johann volunteered for a week, alphabetizing and organizing stock.

"We were worried that if it took too long, it would be too damaging to their sales and they might not open at all," says Tammy.

Not to worry. Three weeks after superstorm Sandy, on Nov. 16 at 11 a.m., Bank Square Books reopened for business. "We couldn't have done it without the help of our community," says Philbrick. "It was pretty incredible."

That community support is by no means unique to Bank Square Books, and it may be the secret ingredient behind a quiet resurgence of independent bookstores, which were supposed to go the way of the stone tablet – done in first by the national chains, then Amazon, and then e-books.

A funny thing happened on the way to the funeral.

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