Josh Niesse and Megan Bell, owners of Underground Books and Hills & Hamlets in Carrollton and Chattahoochee Hills, Ga., reported that both of their stores are closed following a mandatory shelter in place order that has shuttered all non-essential businesses. In fact, Bell and Niesse had decided to close their stores even before they were ordered to, because they "couldn't feel good about exposing our customers or employees to any risk."
The pair spent most of last week taking home their inventory of vintage and antiquarian books, which numbers in the thousands, so they can continue to process orders from home. They've seen a definite uptick in online sales across most of their channels, and have been using their social media to try to drive people to their Bookshop and Libro.fm pages. Niesse, Bell and their team created curated lists based on topics like pandemic fiction, feel-good fiction and Self-Care for the Coronavirus & Beyond, which have proven popular, and they've started doing things like posting recommended reads from community members.
Even with the increase in online sales, however, Bell and Niesse estimate they're looking at a 70%-80% decline in total revenue. They've furloughed all four of their part-time staffers, with the hope of bringing them back at a later date. With so much uncertainty, they're taking things a day at a time and trying to pour as much of their creativity as possible into rolling with the punches and brainstorming new ideas. They added that while they don't know what the future holds financially, the most important thing for them is "doing our part to ensure that our neighbors and loved ones stay healthy and that our healthcare providers remain free and able to care for the most vulnerable in our community."
In Bethany Beach, Del., Bethany Beach Books is closed for browsing but booksellers are able to come in each to answer phone calls, fulfill online orders and do curbside pickup between 10 a.m and 4 p.m. Events coordinator Zandria Senft reported that she and her colleagues have seen a huge increase in online orders.
The store is offering free shipping, and staff members are trying to get the books in the mail as fast as possible. For a time, the store was unable to do curbside pickup because of an order issued by the state, but an exception was made and the store was able to resume pickup on Friday. Senft said it's been "very successful" and customers seem to like it.
Senft added that despite the popularity of online orders and curbside pickup, sales have definitely been affected, with customers no longer able to come in and browse. Staff members, however, are proving strong and adaptable and are "taking it one day at a time."
"And now, we regroup," Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill, N.C., posted on Facebook Friday. "For the past 14(?) days, our core staff of six has been working 5-6 days each week to get everything done and keep our community stocked with books. Each day, we've held our breath through city, county, and state announcements, hoping that we'll be allowed to keep going for one more day. Today, we got the amazing news that bookstores will be designated as essential--something we have always known. It feels incredible to have that recognition from others, and we are so lucky to have support from our state, county and town government and from all of you! We're so excited to keep working, but we kinda need a nap... so we're gonna hit pause for the weekend. Keep sending your online orders, and we'll get to them first thing next week. We hope everyone has a beautiful, restful weekend. We love you!"
In Bend, Oregon, Dudley's Bookshop Cafe owner Tom Beans told the Bulletin that between March 16 and March 24, the shop had benefited from the sale of 111 books online. "That has blown up. Thank God, that's out there. It's incredible."
Lane Jacobson, owner of Paulina Springs Books in Sisters, agreed: "We expect that is something that we're going to have to lean on heavily if there's, like, a forced closure. Because that allows people to order online, support whatever bookstore they choose that's affiliated with Bookshop, and then get books delivered straight to their door."
Both booksellers are also making deliveries to customers and providing curbside service. Deon Stonehouse, owner of temporarily closed Sunriver Books and Music, told the Bulletin that bookstores are included among non-essential services have been shut down in the Village at Sunriver, though Village restaurants remain open to takeout.
"I do not think that if I put a book in a bag and walk it out and hand it to somebody in their car that that is more dangerous than a restaurant cooking food, placing the food in a container and delivering that food to the person in their lobby," she said. "I just don't see that as more dangerous. And you can quote me on that."
Harriett's Bookshop, which opened earlier this year in Philadelphia, Pa., posted on Facebook: "We have no big team (yet), so last night my mother & I packaged and shipped tote bags for folks supporting us w/ a book purchase. We got out as many bags as we could thanks to Philly Kid Grafix. If you don't get one, please forgive us, supplies were limited. Just know regardless, we are deeply grateful & highly encouraged to keep the mission alive by any means necessary. Inside of each bag is an extra little gift. We hope it helps you get through this moment in time. Next up, it's on my heart to get books & lesson plans out to children & families. Not sure what to do yet but we are concocting a plan. Stay tuned."
Alsace Walentine, co-owner of Tombolo Books in St. Petersburg, Fla., told WUSF's Florida Matters: "It's a very, very, very scary time for many bookstores. With bookselling, there's an incredibly slim profit margin... because the price is printed on the book. So unlike other businesses, you can't set the price. You're already dealing in a limited, restricted way with your main product. And so I know a lot of folks who are really struggling."
She added that having faith in your business and community is critical at an uncertain time like this: "Staying positive is a really good foundation for all of this, but it's certainly hard."