Brad Johnson, owner of East Bay Booksellers, Oakland, Calif., provided an update to customers on the store's status, noting: "What a month it's been. When we closed our doors on Sunday, March 15th, I had a sense that everything around us would soon be doing the same. The inevitable happened much quicker than I expected, i.e., the very next day(!), but I was encouraged that our city leaders were trying to get ahead of things.
"Though I know many people are suffering in the midst of this--be it through loss of income or health care; be it anxiety or depression; be it mourning off loss; be it sickness itself--it's been heartening to see so many small acts of cooperation and kindness. Neighbors looking after neighbors. Why does it so often take a crisis to make community more tangible?
"In the days since our closure to the public, I've gotten so many e-mails and calls from customers. Many of them were 'just' words of encouragement. 'Just'... like what I'm breathing in right now is 'just' oxygen! There have also been lots of questions. I thought I might distill some of these into a sort of FAQ."
|Politics and Prose Live!, a launch event for Monica Hesse's YA novel They Went Left (Little, Brown). P&P's Heidi Yoon (l.) kicked off the conversation between Hesse (c.) and Justine Kenin of NPR's All Things Considered (r.).
In a story headlined "Stores try to stay relevant while their doors are closed," the Associated Press reported that Politics & Prose Bookstore, Washington D.C., "was also forced to temporarily close and is now starting to stream author talks online and offering a curbside pickup service."
"Many bookstores are known as havens for comfort and reassurance in difficult times," said co-owner Bradley Graham. "But a pandemic is not like other crises. In a medical crisis like this, the idea of bringing people together becomes an anathema."
Noting that Oklahoma "has used a relatively broad definition of essential businesses that can continue limited operations amid the Covid-19 shutdown, which has brought criticism from some," a Tulsa World editorial observed that "some businesses deemed essential have taken a hard look at their own operations, the potential dangers to their customers, employees and the public, and have decided to close voluntarily."
Although bookstores are on the list of essential retailers, Tulsa's Magic City Books and Best of Books, Edmond, have gone public with their disagreement about the classification. In a Facebook post, Magic City founder Jeff Martin called the decision a mistake. "We will remain closed. Online and shipping only. As long as it takes. Stay in. Stay safe. Read more."
"In the best of times, bookstores are delightful gathering places," Tulsa World noted. "We look forward to the day that we can again do that, and that day will come. But for now, we'll order our books from a safe distance.... When the Covid-19 crisis passes, consumers need to remember local businesses that were there for them in an emergency--taking proper precautions for their customers and staff and serving essential needs. They also need to remember those who decided the right thing to do was to wait."
In a letter to the Elliott Bay Book Company (Seattle, Wash.) community, owner Peter Aaron also explored the concept of "essential" in relation to bookselling. "We see it as an official designation of individuals (healthcare professionals, delivery drivers) and institutions (pharmacies, liquor stores)," he observed. "It leads me to wonder what really is essential--at least in my life. Shelter; food; connection with loved ones, friends, colleagues; connection with the natural world; the comfort and inspiration of the written word.
"Though I'd never associated the word 'essential,' I've always thought of this bookstore--as of manifold independent bookstores--as a vital part of the civil fabric of our city. A place where lovers of the book can come together in safety and community and graze among the shelves; a place offering close encounters with the creators of thought and dream and verbal music; a place to find information or advice to guide the thirsty reader to a satisfying spring.
"That is why, throughout the years, through blizzard, earthquake, riot, global economic meltdown (and we have weathered all of these), our first dedication has been to keep the store open--as a haven offering the sense of comfort and continuity our community has craved. And that's what makes the current crisis so fundamentally different from every past exigency. Just as we stay in contact with family and dear ones through phone, zoom, whatever connective technology, so we are doing what we can to be here for you--though it's all a pale substitute for free proximity.
"The messages we've received of support, encouragement, alliance, are inestimably inspiriting and my heart overflows with gratitude to you. What has always been obvious is that you are essential to us--without you there is no Elliott Bay Book Company. Your engagement with our work has always been our foremost responsibility and our highest privilege. So it's with profound appreciation that I send my best wishes, with hopes to welcome you safely once again through our front door--as soon as may be."
Idaho Public Television's Dialogue host Marcia Franklin spoke with three of the state's leading independent booksellers "about how they're trying to weather the Covid-19 lockdowns that have severely affected their businesses." Guests were Carol Price, owner of BookPeople of Moscow; Laura DeLaney, co-owner of Rediscovered Books in Boise; and Melissa Demotte, owner of the Well-Read Moose in Coeur d'Alene."