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Back in business: Lexington bookseller’s recovery was ‘long, tough go’

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From Oct. 10, 2016 print issue of Columbia Regional Business Report

Calvin Lyles returned to town on Monday, the day after historic rains caused the earthen dam next to Lexington’s Old Mill to breach, flooding his Rainy Day Pals bookstore.

Lexington bookseller Calvin Lyles' losses in last October's flood totaled $285,000, including 25,000 books. (Photo/Chuck Crumbo)Lyles surveyed the damage caused by 3-foot-deep floodwaters in his ground level store and contacted his insurance company. By Thursday he learned that his policy didn’t cover damage caused by a flood. So Lyles approached the Small Business Administration for a disaster loan and contacted the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The SBA turned him down.

“They said they couldn’t see how they would get their money back,” Lyles said.

FEMA also couldn’t help. “The only help I got from FEMA was the worker who took my information bought a signed copy of North of Boston by Robert Frost,” Lyles said.

So Lyles, who pegged his flood loss at $285,000, approached private sources for funds, contacting “people who knew me and trusted me.”

He got the money and went to work to build the bookshelves and fixtures by hand.

Help in cleaning out his store was provided by members of Watershed Fellowship, a church located in neighboring room on the ground floor of the Old Mill.

The church needed more room so a deal was worked out allowing Watershed to expand into Lyles’s space on the ground flood. In exchange, Lyles moved to an empty antique mall on the second floor.

It took about two weeks to clear out the antique mall space for his move, Lyles said. With the help of church members, he was in his new location in 6½ hours.

Lyles replaced 25,000 books lost in the flood with inventory he had in a warehouse. Some items like newspapers published in San Francisco and shipped by steamboat or stagecoach to South Carolina couldn’t be replaced, he said.

“You’re not going to get those back,” Lyles lamented about the challenges of selling one-of-a-kind items. “When it’s gone, it’s gone.”

He also lost 23 Time-Life books on the Civil War, plus a large collection of books about World War II and the Vietnam War.

Lyles was back in business Dec. 18, two and a half months after the flood and just in time to catch the tail end of the holiday shopping season.

“I lost 5 inches off my waist and 35 pounds,” Lyles said, showing a visitor where he used to notch his belt. “I worked 12-16 hours a day until I was so tired I couldn’t go no more.”

This wasn’t the first time Lyles had to rebound from a business loss.

In 1998, fire swept through his store at the Barnyard Flea Market on Augusta Road. His loss totaled about $135,000 and wasn’t covered by insurance, Lyles said. “I had no insurance because no one insured flea market vendors,” he said.

Lyles, who moved to the downtown Lexington location in 2005, enjoys what he sees as some of the fringe benefits of being a bookseller.

He loves to read and enjoys chatting about books and authors with a steady stream of customers, including some who travel from out of state to a store where they can find new as well as old books, along with a few rare gems.

Reflecting on the past 12 months, Lyles said it was a matter of surviving and still being able to earn a paycheck.

“Yeah, we got open. We got things going,” Lyles said. “It hasn’t been easy, but we survived. It was one long, tough go.”

Reach Chuck Crumbo at 803-726-7542.

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