In Redmond, Wash., Brick & Mortar Books is now "mostly back to normal," reported store owner Dan Ullom. Ullom and his team have implemented a number of safety precautions, including limiting occupancy and closing an hour earlier each day. Masks are given out to customers who haven't brought their own and bottles of hand sanitizer are available throughout the store. The team has installed plexiglass sneeze guards and they've moved the credit card swipers.
Prior to shutting down in the spring, the store was not selling books online at all. The philosophy at the time was to focus all of the staff's energy on the in-store shopping experience. In the weeks after the shutdown, the store set up a Bookshop.org page and "learned to sell books over e-mail and over the phone through Ingram Direct." Seeing the "amazing" initiative and adaptability of his employees, Ullom added, was one of the bright spots.
There was also a large B2B order that "helped significantly," and the store's customers went "above and beyond" in supporting Brick & Mortar Books. The special-order shelves have overflowed to the point where the team had to add more space, and customers have done things like buy gift cards and donate them back to the store, which the staff have then used to get books to families in need.
When asked about the holiday season, Ullom said that from a buying perspective, the store is approaching the holidays like normal, because "we can't have a successful holiday season if we don't have books and gifts to sell." He and his team have been encouraging customers to shop early, and if projections hold, this month should be the store's most successful October to date.
On the subject of the protests that began around the country in late May and early June in response to the murder of George Floyd, Ullom said that individually, there was "marching, sign-holding, chanting and singing," and as a store, the team curated a Black Lives Matter section, along with an activism section. He noted that interest in BLM and activism resources in his community was at "an all-time high," and the team was "delighted to support our community."
Tamara Shiloh, owner of The Multicultural Children's Bookstore in Richmond, Calif., reported that she has been online-only since June, when the mall that housed her bookstore closed down. Most customer orders are being delivered, though she's been doing a limited amount of curbside pick-up.
Shiloh added that she's found a new place, and will be sharing a location with the Bay Area Girls Club. She noted that there is still some "sprucing up" to do before the store can reopen, and while she had hoped to reopen in time for Christmas, that now seems less likely.
When asked about ordering for the holiday season, Shiloh said she's approaching it much as she has in year's past, even though she will be mainly selling titles online. As usual, she plans to "carry the appropriate holiday books for the various cultures." She also intends to encourage customers to shop early, and is generating correspondence for that now.
Beginning this summer, Shiloh's store has appeared on a number of lists featuring Black-owned bookstores to support. She said the support has been great, though things have "died down considerably" over the past few weeks. She's enjoyed seeing folks support the store from all around the country, and she's hopeful that the holidays will result in a nice bump in sales.
This July, Beach Books in Seaside, Ore., saw its best month of sales in the store's history, and owner Karen Emmerling said sales have continued to be strong since. Prior to the pandemic, there was usually only one bookseller on the floor at a time, but with all of the shipping going on and the need to keep track of occupancy, at least two people are on the floor at all times. In the spring the store "ramped up" its social media, which Emmerling and her team have continued.
Emmerling recently sent out an e-mail to customers about the importance of shopping early for the holidays, though she has yet to see results for that. Ordering for the holidays has been difficult, given the uncertainty about reprinting and shipping delays. In that regard she's been fairly conservative, except for some of the bigger titles in the holiday catalogue. Normally, the store inserts the catalogue in local papers on Thanksgiving weekend, but this year Beach Books will be doing two insertions, one in early November and another in early December. --Alex Mutter