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Leslie Huerta grew up in the Caribbean, the daughter of a hotel manager.

As an adult, she spent years in the travel industry.

So it makes sense that her epiphany about a career change came on an airplane.

Huerta was traveling for her job when she picked up American Airlines' in-flight magazine and read an article about the resurgence of independent bookstores.

Reading it, she thought, "That's what I would do if I could."

It was just a thought, but as time passed, she couldn't get it out of her head.

She started doing research and gathering information. When she got serious and decided she really was going to open her own bookstore, she started looking for space -- in College View and University Place at first.

But her thoughts kept coming back to the vacant little building downtown on 13th Street, tucked between Walgreens and the Federal Trust building.

The century-old Telephone Exchange building once housed a competitor to Lincoln Telephone & Telegraph. It also hosted a series of restaurants, including Julio's.

Beginning Friday, it will be the home of Lincoln's newest bookstore, Francie & Finch.

Huerta said the store gets its name from her two favorite literary characters: Francie from "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" and Scout Finch from "To Kill a Mockingbird."

"They're both strong readers and strong little girls, and I just love them," she said. "People who are readers have their own Francie and Finch."

Huerta is hoping those readers will flock to her store, which will have everything from the newest bestsellers to cookbooks in its 1,500 square feet of space.

The back of the shop, which used to be the kitchen area when it housed restaurants, will be a children's room.

She also plans to sell art from local and Caribbean artists and will host entertainment events, including live bands and belly dancing demonstrations.

She said she thinks she has a great location, with hundreds of professionals working nearby, 4,000 people living downtown and The Cornhusker Marriott just a couple of blocks away.

"I'm really pleased with the reception of folks that that live in downtown," Huerta said. "It really reinforces my gut feeling to open in this location."

Despite the perception that the print book market is dying, the numbers actually are on Huerta's side.

Huerta said electronic book sales are leveling off, a contention that is backed up by the American Booksellers Association.

The group also said earlier this year that the number of independent bookstores owned by its members has risen to more than 2,300 this year, up from about 1,650 in 2009.

Huerta said Friday's opening is a soft opening to coincide with the Downtown Lincoln Association's First Friday Art Walk, and she plans to host an official grand opening early next year. The store's regular hours will be 10 a.m.-7:30 p.m. Monday-Friday, and noon-7:30 p.m. on Saturday.

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Reach the writer at 402-473-2647 or molberding@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LincolnBizBuzz.

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Business editor/reporter

Matt Olberding is a Lincoln native and University of Nebraska-Lincoln graduate who has been covering business for the Journal Star since 2005.

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