Saying that "nothing about this pandemic has been easy to cope with, but the news we received today has felt like a bit of a sucker punch," Brilliant Books, Traverse City, Mich., chronicled the latest obstacle in its path to surviving the novel coronavirus crisis.
The bookstore, which has been closed to the public since before Governor Whitmer's first Stay Home, Stay Safe executive order was announced, "eliminated any customer contact and limited staff in-store to three essential people working in separate spaces. It made things tough, but we had systems in place to allow remote work and keep going in a way that was safe, compliant, and effective for our staff and customers."
Regional media outlets even highlighted Brilliant Books as a local business making things work and taking care of customers despite the difficulties, but those stories "may have made it appear that the store was open. This morning, we received a warning from the health department that we would need to 'cease our current activities.' We're confident that our in-store system was operating within both the spirit and letter of the governor's Executive Order, but we know our health department has more important things to do than to debate that with us. These mandates are in place to protect our community, and we take that very seriously, so we will, of course, be complying. As of this afternoon, we no longer have an in-store staff presence."
Brilliant Books is still shipping from its warehouse partners and handling customer service phone calls, e-mails, and social media queries, but from outside the bookstore. The latest development, however, "makes the tightrope we walk that much more unstable, and so we need you beside us more than ever. We are lucky in that we already had systems in place that allow us to accomplish much of our work remotely.... We're going to come through this as long as we stick together, even if only at a distance. We've always been your Long Distance Local Bookstore, and now, when we're needed more than ever, we're going to do whatever we can to make sure that doesn't change."
"I've been basically trying to reinvent a business that I've been working in my entire life," Kelly Estep, co-owner of Carmichael's Bookstore, Louisville, Ky., told the Courier Journal, which reported that since the store closed its locations to foot traffic in March because of the coronavirus pandemic, "the volume of orders and the promise of free delivery to the entire city of Louisville was somewhat of an adjustment for the staff." Before Covid-19, it was rare for Carmichael's to deliver more than a few times a month, but last week it made about 200 deliveries.
In a new event space behind the original store, Estep "sits among stacks of books and sorts orders for delivery with co-owner (and cousin) Miranda Blankenship and Mark Schultz," the Courier Journal wrote. "Schultz, who works at the Frankfort Avenue location, has moved into filling online orders through the week. Online and phone orders have jumped from just a few a day to about 400 per week. Everyone is now wearing multiple hats." Evan Strange is now making the delivery van his full-time office, and Jason Brown, a buyer for Carmichael's, is juggling child care and deliveries full time on the weekend.
"We've had to change everyone's schedule," Estep said, noting that despite the increased online orders, she is unsure about the future. "We've never been in this business to make a lot of money. People who own bookstores know that they are low profit."
The bookstores employ about 30 people, and all full-time employees have been able to keep their benefits, the Courier Journal noted. Some staff have chosen to leave due to childcare needs or underlying health risks. "This is a family business," Estep said. "Our whole staff is really our family. We have people who have worked with us for 10, 15, 20 years. If we have a finite amount of money, we are going to pay our employees and take care of them first. Before we pay a publisher, we're going to pay you."
Tattered Cover Book Store, Denver, Colo., posted a "message of thanks" on Facebook: "We, the Tattered Cover Staff, want to say THANK YOU for the support and love you have shown us through your orders!
"We are working hard and tirelessly to get you your books all while staying healthy and keeping our indie business up and running. With this bare bones (but mighty!) crew, we are processing orders, answering questions online, and making sure our work spaces stay as clean as possible. As such, we are about a week behind on processing orders and answering e-mails but we promise we are doing everything we can to catch up!
"We appreciate your continued patience and understanding during these tough times. Thank you for being there for us and helping us keep our jobs, our store, and our ability to share stories going. We hope you and your families continue to stay healthy, safe, and well-read during this time. THANK YOU!"
Three weeks into the statewide stay-at-home order, Quail Ridge Books, Raleigh, N.C., "is closed for browsing but is still shipping books. Hours may be fewer and farther between but, armed with tape and spaced carefully across the store, employees continue to peddle books by mail," Indy Week reported.
"Right now pretty much pivoted to being an online business," said marketing manager Jason Jefferies. "Fortunately for us, Amazon de-prioritized their book shipping when all this started, so we have picked up a lot of book orders from across the country.... We're all working together--publishers, authors, booksellers, and we are also working with our friends at other bookstores, like Flyleaf and the Regulator. We're all doing what we can to support each other and stay afloat."
He added: "There's definitely been either a perception shift or a magnification of something that was kind of in the background. We definitely feel like our friends in the community are coming through for us."