There is perhaps no greater testament to the impact of Akimbo Bookshop on the Rochester community than the story of its rebirth.
After a three-alarm fire occurred in a building near Akimbo’s East Avenue location on Jan. 4, the shop was deemed a total loss and forced to close its doors. The event occurred after less than a year at its first physical location.
An overwhelming amount of support and encouragement poured in from the Rochester community. Owner Rachel Crawford launched a crowdfunding campaign, which at first was circulated within the literary community. The American Booksellers Association, New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association and the Book Industry Charitable Foundation offered extensive help.
Soon local business, friends, and Akimbo fans pitched in, using their platforms to share the campaign and spread the word. Businesses including Ugly Duck Coffee, Happy Gut Sanctuary, Black Cat Baking Company, and Aldaskeller Wine Co. have been exceptionally supportive, Crawford says. Both Tiny Fish Printing and Juice Box ROC held fundraisers to aid in Akimbo’s rebuilding efforts.
“It’s just been endless…I would describe (them all) as my life support,” says Crawford.
On Feb. 18 the campaign to rebuild Akimbo Bookshop surpassed its $32,000 goal. Now, Akimbo is planning for a spring reopening at a soon-to-be-revealed location in the Neighborhood of the Arts.
“The space is very small, very much retail-focused,” Crawford says.
In a short time, Akimbo became known for its focus on small presses, diverse voices and literature in translation, as well as its commitment to community. Over eight months, the bookshop hosted over 50 mutual aid events, author readings and signings, artist Q&As, and yoga classes. Crawford was already considering a new home for the store before the disaster.
Akimbo will still hold community programming, though events at the new location “will be a lot more intimate,” she says.
In many ways, Akimbo Bookshop’s new home has much of what Crawford was looking for the first time around. The space is a modestly sized, first-floor location. There’s good news for music lovers, too. The shelves of Akimbo 2.0 will also hold vinyl records, pins, patches, and zines.
“We’re gonna punk it up a little this time,” Crawford says. “We’re gonna get more radical.”
The scaled-down size of Akimbo 2.0 is set to be a defining characteristic of its function. Events going forward will be “very literary focused,” says Crawford, mentioning author readings and book signings. “In terms of other events, we’re looking into how to make that work. Honestly, I’m excited to be at a smaller space so that events are more voluntary and not as much necessary.”
For Crawford, a single mom with no help at home and Akimbo’s sole employee, the 70 to 80 hours she spent each week running the shop and hosting events was becoming exhausting.
Still, she maintains, “nothing that I ever did was done alone.” She voices appreciation for a Rochester Contemporary Art Center volunteer, Reggie McCann, who volunteered at Akimbo for around a month before the bookstore burned down.
Despite her overflowing gratitude for all Akimbo supporters, Crawford wishes the literary arts would receive more attention in Rochester.
“Literature is integral to the arts, not peripheral,” says Crawford.
Natasha White is a student at the University of Rochester. The Beacon welcomes comments and letters from readers who adhere to our comment policy including use of their full, real name. Submissions to the Letters page should be sent to [email protected].