In Cambridge, Mass., Harvard Book Store is currently closed to both staff members and the public, with all booksellers working remotely and all orders being fulfilled through the store's Bookshop.org affiliate page. General manager Alex Meriwether reported that he and his team are recommending books and book lists via social media and on the store's website, running virtual events from home and making new lists for the store's Bookshop page daily, such as "light books for heavy times," and "Best of Lines, First of Lines." Meriwether is also mailing out store gift cards from home.
Over the past several weeks, Meriwether noted, Harvard Book Store has adjusted its operations frequently. At one stage, the store was closed to the public but booksellers were coming in to do phone orders, curbside pickup and web processing, and during another period HBS was doing curbside pickup in addition to local and national delivery. Like everyone else, Meriwether said, "we're taking things a day at a time and paying close attention to local advisories."
On the subject of his staff, Meriwether said it's been tough for everyone, with the nature and responsibility of every single person's job shifting every week or two.
Meriwether noted that the PPP application process has not been straightforward or seamless, but the store has applied and is awaiting the results.
Harvard Book Store has been running virtual events since April 2, and the team has been "delighted and encouraged" by the community's response. For some digital events, HBS has had more than 600 digital attendees, and the feedback the store has received via e-mail and social media has been wonderful. Several of the booksellers on the store's events team said the "conversation and energy around a book talk" brought about the first sense of normaly they'd felt in weeks.
Despite the popularity of these events, the number of books sold and revenue generated doesn't compare to in-person events, and Meriwether and his team "miss all the things that make live events special." But in the meantime, virtual events have helped them continue what they do, and has still been a "meaningful and effective way to sell books."
At Phinney Books in Seattle, Wash., doors are closed to the public but staff members are coming in most days, largely alone, to deal with inventory, orders and receiving. Store owner Tom Nissley reported that his staff is faring about "as well as can be hoped." In part because the staff is small and most of his employees are part-time, he's been able to keep everyone on payroll. Cabin fever, however, is, unfortunately, "rampant."
To Nissley's surprise, his PPP application was approved just in time for his store to receive funds as part of the first batch. He gives credit for that to his neighborhood bank, which was helpful and efficient. He added that despite having little difficulty with the application process, it was still frustrating. "The fact that we, largely by chance, received ours and so many of our fellow businesses have not shows that the program is not working as it should," Nissley explained.
On the subject of virtual events, Nissley said Phinney Books doesn't do many actual in-store events even in normal times, but he has partnered with Phinney's sister store Madison Books to do some virtual storytimes and book clubs. With no end in sight to social distancing, however, Nissley and his team would like to plan and run more of them.
One silver lining, Nissley continued, was the quick improvement of some of the store's shipping and customer-billing processes in ways that will be helpful in the long term. And while he said it wasn't really a surprise, given the community, Phinney Books has had "wonderful support from our neighborhood, both with direct orders through our store and through Bookshop, although we miss seeing them in person." And, while he and his staff have the place to themselves, they are taking the opportunity to do some thorough inventory work.
He and his team, Nissley added, are very glad that Bookshop launched in February and that they got on board quickly. The volume of sales the store has seen through its Bookshop page has been "pretty astounding," and it's made it possible for them to "imagine coming out of this in decent shape, whatever conditions we come out to."
The Well~Read Moose Bookstore, Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, shared photos of two creative new sidewalk chalkboard messages. The bookshop's marketing assistant, Anna Rose Carleton, noted: "We are still open, but fulfilling online, and phone orders only. We are working hard every day to get books in the hands of our customers and community members because books are important and connect us--they truly are magical! We are also using this time, while our store is closed to the public, to redesign our store, adding more shelves and titles to expand our collection. The store had a flood on New Year's Eve and ever since then, we have been working towards expanding and making our store better. We miss our customers dearly and are excited to reopen with all the improvements made to the store. We are so thankful to everyone who has supported us during this time."