Nicole Yasinski, marketing manager at Novel in Memphis, Tenn., reported that the store is open seven days per week for in-store shopping. Masks have been required since mid-June and social distancing guidelines are enforced. The store is about 10,000 square feet, which gives customers and staff plenty of space, and once the store stopped doing in-person events, Yasinski and the team spread things out even further.
Novel was closed for in-store shopping for two months in 2020, but the store managed to keep everyone employed. The team pivoted to online and phone sales, curbside pick-up and delivery and virtual events, which meant everyone was "working 10 times as hard for just a fraction of the sales" the store would normally see. Reopening the store for browsing proved to be "incredibly tense," and not a decision that was taken lightly. Once the doors were open and customers felt comfortable again, sales slowly began to recover.
Asked about any bright spots amid all the difficulties, Yasinski pointed to the way the store was able to come together and adapt at a moment's notice to all sorts of new demands and challenges. Some of these, she continued, included finding puzzles when they were flying off the shelves, as well as trying to handsell puzzles over the phone to customers doing curbside pick-up. She added: "We could not have done this without the incredible hard work of our team at all levels."
Looking ahead in 2021, Yasinski said the first half of the year has been about "maintaining" and not "letting our guard down on safety measures." With pandemic fatigue growing, this has been "top of mind" constantly. Additionally, the store saw a huge increase in online sales during the pandemic, and they want to continue to grow that side of the business even as things slowly return to normal. IndieCommerce, she noted, has been "amazing during the pandemic," and she hopes to put all of the extra functionality and other improvements to good use going forward.
Yasinski and the team are still unsure exactly when they'll feel safe resuming in-store events. Prior to the pandemic, the store did everything it could to "pack" its event space for author events, so the thought of limiting things to a small crowd seems counter-intuitive. In the meantime, they are trying to get creative and think of ideas for outdoor events, potentially in the fall, but they won't make a push for that until they know they can do it safely.
In Pittsburgh, Pa., City of Asylum Bookstore is open daily for browsing with no appointments necessary, and manager Lesley Rains reported that on some weekends it "feels like old times" except for the masks and social distancing. Website orders still make up more than 50% of the store's sales, however, and Rains and her team have drastically changed procedures and altered the store layout to accommodate in-store browsing and order fulfillment. She added that she thinks online sales will make up a significant part of the store's revenue "for the foreseeable future."
Asked how the store fared in 2020, Rains said the bookstore was actually up significantly over 2019, thanks to the community's generous support. Despite how challenging 2020 was on so many levels, people still found the time, energy and resources to support the store, often multiple times. She remarked: "It still moves me deeply."
While the store operated mostly online last year, Rains and her staff were still able to feel connected to customers. They included personalized notes in outgoing packages, and customers sent notes with their orders. Book recommendations posted to social media or included in weekly newsletters brought good responses from customers, and handselling still happened, even though the customer wasn't in the store.
The store is open daily from 12-5 p.m., and at this point Rains has no plans to expand hours any further. The City of Asylum events teams will host some outdoor events throughout the summer, but there are no plans at this point to return to indoor events. As more people are vaccinated and hopefully cases decrease, they'll reevaluate their operations. --Alex Mutter