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'We Plan to Continue,' Canio's Booksellers Say

Wed, 05/29/2024 - 17:42
Kathryn Szoka, left, and Maryann Calendrille, who have owned Canio's Books since 1999, are hoping to continue operating the shop in a new location when their lease expires later this year.
Denis Hartnett

The date is marked in figurative red pen: Sept. 30, the day that Canio's Books will close its iconic storefront on Sag Harbor's Main Street after more than 40 years in business, having been unsuccessful in attempts to renew its lease again earlier this year.

But until then Canio's is open for business and there is a new groundswell of support for the shop, including a GoFundMe campaign launched on May 19 and dedicated to helping the business thrive in whatever location it ends up in next.

A group named the Friends of Canio's is coordinating the fund-raising effort, which is "tremendously helpful and very moving," said Maryann Calendrille, who has owned the shop with Kathryn Szoka since 1999. The campaign has set a goal of raising $45,000.

Karyn Feiden is one of those Friends, inspired to help launch the GoFundMe page in honor of her brother and sister-in-law, Douglas Feiden, a reporter and editor who died in 2023, and Lucette Lagnado, a journalist and memoirist who died four years earlier. Mr. Feiden had worked for a short time at The Sag Harbor Express and they were frequent visitors to the store.

"They credited [Canio's] with launching Lucette's memoir," Ms. Feiden recalled. The book, "Man in the Sharkskin Suit," would go on to become a best seller.

Since then, Ms. Feiden has developed her own relationship with the store and its owners. When she heard that they were losing their space, it felt very personal. Helping to put together the GoFundMe "was something that I can contribute," she said. "It felt like a mix of honoring my brother and Lucette, and the love I have for Canio's myself."

That love is reciprocated by Ms. Szoka and Ms. Calendrille, who said they feel an enormous amount of gratitude towards the community at large and the Friends of Canio's. "We're just so moved by it on many different levels," Ms. Calendrille said.

The support is rooted in the rich work that Canio's has done for the community. In 2009, a decade after taking over the shop, Ms. Szoka and Ms. Calendrille launched the nonprofit Canio's Cultural Cafe, offering talks and readings with authors, themed events, and celebrations of literature in general. "It was a way for us to increase the programming that we offer to the community," Ms. Szoka said, "and to help maintain the brick-and-mortar business that we have in Sag Harbor."

Canio's also was instrumental in the preservation of the Steinbeck House, which now offers tours, lectures, and writing workshops.
The idea of expanding outward was always a part of the Canio's Cultural Cafe plan. "If we were to lose the location, the retail aspect of it," Ms. Calendrille said, "we would still want to be hosting events in the community. No matter what happens with the real estate aspect of things, we plan to continue."

One of many events planned for this summer is a marathon reading of John Steinbeck's "Travels With Charley." At this weekend-long event, beginning next Thursday and running until the following Saturday night, a guest can experience the entire book being read in succession at various locations in the village, as well as a screening of the 1968 television film of "Travels With Charley" narrated by Henry Fonda.

These marathons are a signature of Canio's, which also does one for Herman Melville's "Moby-Dick" every two years, and while it takes a village to plan, they could not be more thrilled with the results. "I find it great fun," Ms. Szoka said, "that once all the organization is done, and the marathon begins, to just be able to sit in the stream of words, where it's Melville or Steinbeck's 'Travels With Charley.' "

Ms. Caldendrille also notes that because the marathon readings are so community oriented it is something they will continue in 2025 no matter the location of the store. "It's a moveable feast," she said, "It includes a number of village organizations and locations. We'll be able to do that wherever we are."

Additionally, on July 31 Canio's will host a launch event for Bret Anthony Johnston's new book, "We Burn Daylight," a fictional novel focused on the real-life tragedy in Waco, Tex., concerning the Branch Davidians. "It is riveting and exceptional," Ms. Szoka said.

Both Ms. Szoka, who teaches photography workshops out of the store, and Ms. Calendrille, who teaches creative writing, see the cultural events as keeping the long literary history of Sag Harbor alive. Going back to the 1930s, Sag Harbor has always attracted writers and artists. "The Cultural Cafe," Ms. Szoka said, "whether or not we land immediately in another place, is going to be a physical manifestation of that going forward."

Ms. Feiden and the Friends of Canio's created the GoFundMe to make sure that the next space is a place where Canio's can grow and thrive. It has been attracting donations almost every day since it was created, and although it has a long way to go to meet its goal, they are inspired by the support.

"I've gotten some sense of how dedicated a lot of people are to the place," Ms. Feiden said.

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