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Lucy Yu wasn’t positive if she had smoke in her lungs or was having an anxiousness assault. She wanted contemporary air.

5 days earlier, on the Fourth of July, she had raced out of her bookstore in Manhattan’s Chinatown because it crammed with smoke. A fireplace had damaged out in an upstairs condo, threatening to destroy all she had constructed.

Now Ms. Yu was again, and needed to face it. She had assembled a workforce of mates to pack up the books that weren’t broken past restore and put them in storage. By the final bag, she had ache in her chest.

She walked exterior and sat down on a stoop subsequent door, as her mates comforted her and introduced her water.

Her once-vibrant retailer, Yu & Me Books, wanted a intestine renovation to take away mould and smoke residue. The ceiling was caving in, the furnishings she had constructed was broken, and the speaker system she had put in was shot. A single bulb hung, emitting gentle; she and her mates had to make use of flashlights within the basement. That they had salvaged a number of thousand books, however greater than 1,400 had been ruined.

The bookstore was Ms. Yu’s first try at entrepreneurship, and he or she felt she had failed. She opened her retailer with about $45,000 in December 2021 because the neighborhood was rebounding from the pandemic shutdowns and reeling from a spate of anti-Asian assaults. It shortly turned a literary hub that hosted first-time authors and held weekend bar nights, when bibliophiles sipped laborious seltzers and wine. The shop was worthwhile inside 4 months.

All of that was up within the air now. Fireplace officers, seeing the injury, instructed her that it would take a yr to reopen.

“It was the primary time I cried — I simply utterly misplaced it,” Ms. Yu, then 28, mentioned a number of weeks after the fireplace within the first of a collection of interviews. “It was such a curler coaster of feelings as a result of I misplaced one thing that I poured all the pieces into, which is one thing that I feel on the time I didn’t even have the area or bandwidth to grieve.”

However Ms. Yu didn’t have the posh to dwell on these emotions. New books got here out each week, that means every day was one when an writer might select one other store to host a chat or a client might defect to Amazon or Barnes & Noble. With out her brick-and-mortar location, and solely a minuscule e-commerce operation, she needed to get inventive. It required soliciting monetary lifelines and testing out new retailer ideas. It turned her life.

It could take her 208 days — a little bit greater than half the anticipated time — to revive her store. Within the course of, she would discover that parts of the bookstore wouldn’t be precisely the identical as they had been earlier than and that neither was she. Opening her retailer a second time meant reinventing not solely the enterprise, but additionally herself.

She stood up from the stoop and set to work.

Within the days after the fireplace, Ms. Yu had totaled her losses and bills: She was out about $60,000 price of stock. The ceiling’s collapse destroyed the heating, cooling and air flow system, in order that wanted changing, too.

Initially she estimated she’d want $80,000 to rebuild, which didn’t embrace paying her 9 workers, which she had resolved to do. A pal instructed her to be real looking and almost double her estimate. She filed a declare together with her insurance coverage firm, however knew she’d want funds sooner.

Ms. Yu thought concerning the crowdfunding web site GoFundMe, however was hesitant. A number of years earlier, she had used the platform to lift about $16,000 to begin Yu & Me. What would individuals assume when she mentioned she wanted their assist once more?

Her pal and colleague Kazumi Fish reminded her that Yu & Me had come to imply one thing to others as effectively.

Inside a day, greater than 2,400 individuals donated a complete of $231,152 to Ms. Yu’s new GoFundMe marketing campaign. (The marketing campaign ultimately raised $369,555.)

Donations got here from the authors Celeste Ng and Vanessa Chan (every gave $5,000) and the relationship app Espresso Meets Bagel (it poured in $2,000). Native bookstores donated, too. As did scores of people that gave simply $10.

Ms. Yu caught to her revised $150,000 funds, and set the additional cash apart for future emergencies.

Earlier than any rebuilding, she wanted metropolis approval for the work, such because the set up of plumbing and electrical energy. She labored together with her landlord’s architect to hunt permits shortly, and employed a contractor who defined the subsequent steps.

After lengthy days spent doing retailer inspections and speaking to different entrepreneurs in Chinatown who had handled fires, she would return to her one-bedroom Brooklyn condo, which was crammed with mismatched furnishings, books and information, and binge-watch home-improvement TV exhibits like “Hack My Dwelling” and “Hoarder Home Flippers.”

The exhibits taught her which colours conflict and the way to make a room really feel larger. Murphy bookshelves and nooks might create a homey really feel. She sketched drawings to indicate her contractor.

“I want I had identified different those who had designed areas,” Ms. Yu mentioned. “However I used to be like, ‘That is simply one thing I’m going to should do.’ And that’s why HGTV was my useful resource throughout this time.”

By the autumn, building was in full swing at her cavernous retailer. The wires that hung from the ceiling had been tucked and coated by drywall. The flooring had been stripped to their concrete base, and the partitions within the basement had been torn away to show the brick.

A month after the fireplace, the Market Line Meals Corridor, a few mile from her retailer, provided a basement spot for her enterprise. It was solely about three-quarters the dimensions of her unique location, however supplied a gentle deal with that folks might discover on Google. Whereas not disclosing phrases, Ms. Yu mentioned she had negotiated a good lease as a result of Market Line anticipated Yu & Me to generate foot site visitors.

Over Labor Day weekend, Ms. Yu, her workers and her mates labored to copy Yu & Me within the momentary area. They assembled Ikea furnishings, painted partitions, pulled the books out of storage and purchased new ones from distributors. Ms. Yu spent $3,000 on building charges and $10,000 on books. On opening day, the 774-square-foot area was crowded with well-wishers who instructed her that she had outdone herself by recreating the shop’s living-room vibe.

“I’m most likely going to be actually good at opening bookstores on the finish of this,” she quipped.

However it wasn’t the identical. Bookstores depend on serendipitous foot site visitors. This store was on the decrease degree at Market Line, whereas many of the motion was upstairs, the place individuals grabbed a pizza or a beer earlier than heading out. Ms. Yu couldn’t use her liquor or meals license for this location, so she couldn’t stage the bar nights that had reliably drawn in prospects.

Whereas she inspired patrons to seize a drink throughout the meals corridor after which come again to her retailer, “it was not tremendous widespread,” she mentioned. Then she paused and conceded: “It didn’t occur. It didn’t occur possibly in any respect. Not one time.”

Income declined 40 % from a yr earlier.

Yu & Me workers realized they wanted to improvise. They began a “blind date” guide idea. They wrapped some books in brown butcher paper, added pithy descriptions like “Generational Ladies Piecing Collectively Materials of Their Life” (actual title: “Proprietor of a Lonely Coronary heart”) and priced them barely decrease.

A colleague began displaying some smaller books on the cabinets with the covers going through out after realizing that folks purchased books extra constantly once they noticed covers as an alternative of spines.

Gross sales lastly began to extend, and Ms. Yu vowed to use among the classes at her unique retailer as soon as it reopened.

“In the beginning I used to be so mad at myself,” she mentioned. “However I feel I can’t anticipate to adapt and transition and never have to transform the entire course of to a brand new one.”

It was an announcement that might have described different elements of her life as effectively. In her unceasing effort to rebuild — all the pieces was scheduled all the way down to the hour — her private life had gotten out of whack. She hadn’t taken time to course of her emotions concerning the hearth. At inopportune moments, recollections of it might shake her. Some days, she’d should stroll away for hours.

“I get actually overwhelmed with ideas of the fireplace and ideas of sifting by means of and seeing my enterprise burned down,” she mentioned. “I feel I used to white-knuckle, brute-force my method by means of and simply be like: ‘You aren’t unhappy proper now. You’re not wired. You’re going to simply preserve pushing by means of.’ I actually thought I might skirt across the unhappiness.”

Controlling what she might, she trimmed her shoulder-length hair each few months into what turned a pixie reduce simply above her ears. (Shorter hair additionally saved her time.)

Ms. Yu’s tight circle of mates pushed her to eat, relaxation and have a good time herself, particularly when her birthday and the shop’s second anniversary rolled round.

“I can see how it might be simple to really feel alone on this scenario as a result of on the finish of the day, she is the only real proprietor of this retailer,” Ms. Fish mentioned.

As Lunar New 12 months neared, Ms. Yu yearned to return to her Chinatown retailer. She resolved to reopen it by the tip of January. Plus, in early February, Market Line introduced that it might shut in April.

The times previous the reopening had been chaotic. On Instagram, Yu & Me’s web page marketed the occasion with memes and emojis. Behind the scenes, workers scrambled to get sufficient books to fill the shop.

Ms. Yu had ordered hundreds of titles, asking that they be shipped to Market Line as a result of the unique retailer was nonetheless below building. However the provider, UPS, seeing that her Market Line location was vacant, returned the shipments. After reordering them — this time to Yu & Me — she slept on the retailer, ready for them to reach.

On the final Sunday in January, Ms. Yu, now 29, opened the door to Yu & Me. It was darkish and wet, however patrons instantly and constantly flowed in.

The primary was Henry Rivere, a buyer who mentioned that he was there to help an Asian-owned enterprise and that he had been following the shop’s story on social media. The writer Min Jin Lee swung by to provide Ms. Yu a hug, saying she was moved that the entrepreneur hadn’t given up on her dream. Gloria Moy, an upstairs neighbor who was additionally displaced for months after the fireplace, was excited to see the varied vary of consumers coming into Chinatown.

“I can’t describe it,” Ms. Moy, 63, mentioned. “To have the group come collectively, increase everyone up, rise from the ashes simply in time for New 12 months’s.”

Pals with bouquets wriggled previous the lengthy line of consumers. Pedro Ramirez purchased $265 price and a blue Yu & Me cap that he wore out of the shop.

She had set low expectations for gross sales. However a month after the opening, her income was 50 % greater than it was earlier than the fireplace. The bar nights are again, too.

Ms. Yu is now giving herself extra time to learn and replicate. Sitting contained in the purple nook, which was impressed by the hours of home-improvement binge-watching, she mirrored on a line by the novelist Tayari Jones on the finish of “Silver Sparrow”: “Individuals say, that which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. However they’re incorrect. What doesn’t kill you, doesn’t kill you. That’s all you get.”

She paused. Then her eyes welled with tears.

“It’s so true,” Ms. Yu mentioned. “There’s been so many instances on this final yr the place I really feel like one thing in me is dying and I’m nonetheless right here. It didn’t kill me. It didn’t kill me.”

Audio produced by Sarah Diamond.

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