|Annie Philbrick and Pam French
Some of Binc's most invaluable help has come after bookstores have suffered natural disasters. A striking case involved Bank Square Books, Mystic, Conn., when, in October 2013, Tropical Storm Sandy caused a tidal surge that overwhelmed the store's sandbagged walls. "Tuesday morning we arrived to a very wet store and no lights, computers or anything but dampness and the smell of a beach at low tide," recalled owner Annie Philbrick. "Over the next two days, with the undying support of the local community, we packed up and moved the entire children's section to an empty apartment upstairs, and the remaining store into two Mayflower moving trucks to be held at a storage facility about five miles away until we were able to open up again as a bookstore."
Within days, Philbrick, who was then unfamiliar with Binc (but is now a board member), received a call from Binc offering emergency help to the store and staff. "Although Binc cannot give funds directly to the booksellers, they can help with rent, utilities, housing, medical costs and numerous other means of assistance," Philbrick noted. "We offered this to our employees, whom we could not pay for the three weeks we were closed, and helped them gather the paperwork to fax to Binc in order to receive help. For a young hipster bookseller who relies on their daily wages to pay rent and eat, this was a huge help to their existence during that month of November 2013."
Also, this past year, Binc helped a Bank Square Books staffer who, as Philbrick said, "found herself in a messy living situation with a pending divorce and a young child." She asked about financial help, and Philbrick put her in touch with Binc. "Our employee was able to move out of her apartment and find safe place for herself and her son. Binc was able to pay the first month's rent on the new apartment. The new place required her to drive to work, so we worked with Binc to set up a matching grant program where our employee could ask friends and family for funds toward a car purchase and Binc would match those raised funds up to $2,000. We were able to raise enough to match the $2,000 grant and some additional funds to help with her moving costs."
In another striking case that made a major difference in a bookseller's life, last year, Janet Geddis, owner of Avid Bookshop in Athens, Ga., received a Binc grant to help pay for surgery that she otherwise would not have been able to afford.
"As a chronically ill person, I encounter a lot of treatment options that don't have predictable outcomes," said Geddis, who suffers frequent pain and disability stemming from endometriosis. For this surgery, the chances of improvement were very high, and Geddis decided that it was something she wanted to try.
"After working with my insurance company, the doctor and the hospital on a rough estimate of all the costs involved, I started to sob," she recalled. "There was no way I could afford this surgery on my own."
Geddis knew about Binc and remembered "how open and friendly Binc [staff members] was every time I encountered them." She met with Pam French at a conference before the surgery, and French walked her through both the grant application process and what would happen if Binc approved the grant request. From then on, Geddis was struck by how personal the entire process was. "Asking others for financial help puts you into a vulnerable position, especially when the bills you have to deal with stem from seemingly faceless organizations," she said. "Kit Steinaway and Pam French are open and willingly to listen sympathetically, and that helps so much when you're overwhelmed."
Binc also negotiated on Geddis's behalf to lower her hospital bill and set her up with an interest-free payment plan to pay for the portion of medical bills that the Binc grant did not cover. Said Geddis: "They have really changed my life."
Binc did similar crucial work for a bookseller at Copperfield's Books--which has eight stores just north of the Bay Area in California--when a massive tumor was discovered on the brain of its magazine specialist, Amy Farnsworth, who was 37 and had two daughters. "In the blink of an eye, she went from working full time to being hospitalized on radiation therapy," Copperfield's general manager Mimi Figlin remembered. "In addition to her ungodly medical expenses, she worried about pesky little expenditures like rent, food and utilities, all of this while suddenly being unable to work."
Copperfield's contacted Binc, and Binc's Kit Steinaway became "Amy's angel," Figlin continued. "She helped Amy with the paperwork and utilized every ounce of assistance Binc had to offer. Kit also made us aware of Binc's matching grants, which matched the $2,000 that Copperfield's raised for Amy. The support, both financial and emotional, Amy received from Binc meant more to her and her family than I could ever convey."
In another example of Binc's help for booksellers with medical problems, Ken White, formerly manager of Books Inc.'s store in the Castro, San Francisco, founder of Query Books publishing house and a Binc board member, said that "a bookseller (whose identity is known only by two people on staff), missed a few days of work due to a heart attack. Yes, a heart attack. And that bookseller, God bless 'em, was already back at work a few days later. Between the medical bills and lost income, they were having trouble paying other important bills. Binc was able to step in and protect them from further hardship caused by the emergency. I'm proud of this bookseller who soldiered on, and I'm proud of Binc for helping a bookseller pay their bills during a rough spell."