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The business world can be pretty cutthroat, but when the owners of a California bookstore faced a medical emergency, workers from five other bookstores jumped in to help them stay open. (Credit: Vanessa Diaz)

SAN DIEGO — The business world can be pretty cutthroat, but when the owners of a San Diego bookstore faced a medical emergency, workers from five other bookstores jumped in to help them stay open.

Seth Marko and his wife, Jennifer Powell, opened The Book Catapult about a year and a half ago. Powell manages the store and Marko buys the books and also has a full-time job as a sales representative for a publishing company.

Last month, Marko had emergency open heart surgery and spent 11 days in the hospital.

He’s doing well now, but he obviously couldn’t work. His wife couldn’t run the shop either, because she was looking after him and their daughter, who’s about to turn 4.

Their only employee was out with a serious case of the flu, so they had no staff.

“I honestly wasn’t really thinking about the store,” Marko said. “I just assumed that it would be closed, I guess, until further notice. I didn’t know how we would handle it.”

After Marko went into surgery, Powell called their friend Scott Ehrig-Burgess and his wife to get them to look after their daughter.

They met while working at another bookstore in 2003, and Ehrig-Burgess said he did shifts at The Book Catapult when it first opened. He manages The Library Shop, a nonprofit bookstore that supports the public library.

Ehrig-Burgess said his initial concern was to keep Powell positive and trying (unsuccessfully) to persuade her to get some rest.

“The second time I visited him (Marko) in the ICU he opened his eyes, and when he saw me he winked,” Ehrig-Burgess said. “At that point I realized I didn’t need to be on medical watch.”

Ehrig-Burgess started calling their friends, who are also booksellers, to let them know about the surgery, and they wanted to help.

“The first bookseller I called … offered to work, so I realized this would be easy,” he said.

Word got around and before long, Ehrig-Burgess said, booksellers were reaching out to him and offering to help.

He rounded up eight booksellers from five stores, a former bookseller and a friend to run the shop. Powell’s father also helped out.

Ehrig-Burgess still had the key to The Book Catapult from when he worked there, so he handled training and scheduling on top of his other job.

Marko said he didn’t find out about the project until about two days after the surgery.

“If people hadn’t stepped in we would have been closed for at least 10 days, I would say,” Marko said. “It would have been pretty rough.”

Instead, the shop was closed for one day.

Marko said he’s feeling stronger every day and hopes to be able to get back on the road for his publishing job in April.

He can track the store’s sales and place orders from home, but said it will be a while before he can work a full shift.

“I pop my head in every now and then, but it’s exhausting,” Marko said. “It takes a lot out of me at this point.”

Marko said he’s grateful for the support from his friend, his fellow booksellers and his customers, who he said have been coming in and buying more books to help them out.

“My story isn’t the interesting part, it’s the way people stepped up and helped us out. It’s pretty incredible,” Marko said. “That wouldn’t happen in most industries that I can think of. Booksellers seem to be a little different in that way. Which is nice.”