Final chapter for Carol’s Books?

From floods to feuds, Carol’s Books—the city’s first black owned and operated bookstore—faces an uncertain fate

Sharon Wright inside her now-empty bookstore, Carol’s Books.

Sharon Wright inside her now-empty bookstore, Carol’s Books.

Will Sacramento soon lose its oldest African-American bookstore?

Sharon Wright runs Carol’s Books on Del Paso Boulevard, the city’s first black-owned and operated bookshop and a beloved icon in the local community. But her business has been shuttered going on nine months, since June 28 of last year, when a 70-year-old water main ruptured at the intersection of Del Paso and Rio Linda boulevards, flooding the store and at least 15 other nearby shops.

Today, Wright says the city is dragging its feet and preventing her from filing a claim to reopen Carol’s Books. But the city says Wright has been noncooperative.

Last June, the bookstore owner vividly remembers how water suddenly gushed into her store, instantly turning the shop into a humid death trap for nearly 5,000 books and what she says were dozens of priceless pieces of African-American artwork. Nearly a foot of water covered the floor.

“It was like a levee break,” she said.

It took 12 hours for the fire department to pump out the water—not nearly fast enough to save Wright’s inventory. Shelves soaked up floodwater like sponges, while books expanded and warped from the swampy air. It took three weeks and some 300 boxes to move everything into storage.

Wright said she filed a claim last July with York Insurance Services Group, the company that handles liability cases for the city of Sacramento. She said she was assured by an adjuster that the city would accept responsibility.

The adjuster, Joe Crady, promised to keep Wright’s damaged inventory for free at a Service Masters restoration warehouse on Roseville Road, and that the city would compensate her for both damages and also lost revenue. And they did; Wright received $25,000.

But Carol’s Books still has yet to reopen. According to Wright, weeks go by without contact from Crady, and his delays have prevented her from further appraising ruined inventory and submitting a final settlement amount to the city.

Meanwhile, most other businesses affected by the Del Paso water burst and flood have long since reopened; the city has settled eight claims and five are in the process of being paid. Only three cases, including the claim filed for Carol’s Books, are unresolved.

Wright says months of lost revenue continue to pile up, and she isn’t sure if the store will survive.

“I feel like the city is breaking my spirit, and I’m struggling to stay motivated,” she said.

It’s been a two-front battle for the bookstore owner. On one hand, Wright is fighting with the city to reopen her business. At the same time, she’s also been overwhelmed by customers, who are furious about the shutdown. Many have left angry messages on her voice mail.

“They just expect the store to be here, and they’re mad,” said Wright. “I really had to take a few days and digest that.”

Many of these community members have started blaming city officials. At a city council meeting earlier this year, several bookstore customers repeatedly accused council members of not doing enough to save Carol’s Books. One customer at the meeting, Rickey Boyland, said he was shocked at city’s reaction to the situation.

Carol’s Books flooded in 2011 when a city water main burst on Del Paso Boulevard.

“I’m not sure if the city council and the mayor really understand the true depth and value of this particular icon of the community,” Boyland told the council.

At this meeting, city officials deflected accusations and instead blamed Wright for dragging her feet to reopen the bookstore. Councilwoman Sandy Sheedy, whose district includes the parts of Del Paso Boulevard where Carol’s Books is located, forcefully defended the city’s response.

“Risk management has been very, very attentive to this situation,” Sheedy said. “To come in here and say nobody has been paying attention is wrong, because I’ve been updated on this continuously.”

City Manager John Shirey sided with Sheedy and said most of the 16 liability claims filed against the city from the broken water main had been resolved. He pointedly blamed Wright and the bookstore property owner, Allen Warren—who incidentally is running for Sheedy’s council seat—for being uncooperative.

Shirey says that Wright had already received $25,000 to reopen but is asking for more without giving adequate proof of her losses.

“We are not the reason for the holdup,” said Shirey. “We need people to cooperate with one another and cooperate with us in order to be able to get this done. We haven’t had that kind of cooperation or this would have been done many months ago.”

Wright says that she would’ve provided the city with business records and an appraisal of damaged inventory, but back in December—when she tried entering the Service Masters warehouse on Roseville Road to comb through her inventory—she was denied entrance by a storage-facility employee.

Wright then tried contacting Crady, the York Insurance claim adjuster for help, and again failed to hear back.

Even David Plag, executive director for the Del Paso Partnership, has had similar problems contacting Crady. Plag tried helping Wright when he first heard about her problems with the city’s claims adjuster.

“When the flood first occurred, [Crady] was very responsive,” said Plag, who noted that it has been several months since Crady last called him back. “As I was being asked by individual owners to step in and make a phone call, it’s become a lot more difficult to get a hold of him.”

A spokesman for both the city and Crady defended the adjuster’s handling of the bookstore’s claim.

Supervising deputy city attorney Brett Witter acknowledged that Wright had been blocked from visiting her inventory in December, although he blamed Service Masters for the mix-up. Witter also denied any blame fell on Crady, calling him “honest” and “efficient.”

“Ms. Wright is saying the phone calls weren’t made, and Mr. Crady is saying they were,” said Witter. “We tried very hard to get Ms. Wright where she needs to be, but we need to have documentation of the loss, and we don’t have it.”

SN&R asked if the city could disprove Wright’s claims that her messages went unreturned, especially regarding problems entering the Roseville Road storage facility; Witter said Crady couldn’t provide specifics because he didn’t make such notes in the claim file.

Despite the communication breakdown, Wright is moving on. But she says most of the $25,000 from the city has already been spent on utility bills and other expenses that needed to be paid.

On February 29, nearly eight months to the day since water swamped her bookstore, she finally began reviewing her bookstore inventory and assessing damages. She has no idea how long it will take to reopen Carol’s Books—or if her business is still viable at this point.

“I haven’t the foggiest,” Wright said. “Until we crack open box by box, I have no idea.”