Todd Dickinson, co-owner of Aaron's Books in Lititz, Pa., reported that Lancaster County is under a stay-at-home order rather than a shelter-in-place mandate, allowing him and co-owner Sam Droke-Dickinson to go to the store for basic supplies.
Until this week, Dickinson was doing curbside pickup and local deliveries. Both were very popular, and Dickinson noted that he'd driven through a lot of Lancaster County he'd never seen before. Despite how excited customers were about those options, however, the bookstore's sales have still suffered dramatically. Much of the store's business comes from customers browsing the shelves and discovering things they didn't know they wanted, and that's very hard to replicate without a physical storefront.
Dickinson said the store's staff two members offered to eliminate their hours and wait until Aaron's Books can reopen for browsing. He added that they're "being responsible and staying in with their families," and he and his co-owner are waiting to see what kind of support they might be eligible for under the federal relief bills.
Aaron's Books has started three "virtual" book clubs, where Dickinson posts thoughts and questions every few days. He's also posted a few fun videos about the store's ever-changing situation, and he's noticed that humorous Facebook posts seem to get the most traction. Otherwise he has yet to try any live online events.
On a personal note, Dickinson continued, keeping in touch with other booksellers via e-mail or telephone has been essential. While no one has any real answers yet, every hint about improvement helps, and it's reassuring to know that his bookseller friends are going through the same things. He described the ABA's regular Zoom calls as being valuable as both information exchanges and support groups.
In New Orleans, La., Tubby and Coo's Mid-City Book Shop has been closed to the public since March 20. Owner Candice Huber has suspended curbside pickup in an effort to encourage everyone to stay home, but is still doing local deliveries. Since closing for browsing, most of the store's sales have come from its Bookshop.org page and online gift card purchases.
Huber reported that they lost three major events for March and April that would normally pay the rent. The good news, however, is that so far they've been able to maintain a normal level of non-event sales. On Monday Huber launched a fund-raising campaign asking customers to support the store through purchasing gift cards, and the response to that has been "tremendous." They said: "We just keep reminding people that we want to be here at the end of all this, and people have shown us they really want us here, too!"
Huber has yet to launch any virtual events, but they are in the works. In addition to moving book clubs, story times, author readings and board game walkthroughs online, a feature called "Tubby & Coo's Bookstream" is on its way, which will be a mix of pre-recorded and livestreamed content, and Huber plans to post it on the store's Facebook page and YouTube channel. A few virtual author events are also scheduled, and they've been able to convince the organizers of some canceled conferences to do virtual book fair events, where authors will read and do q&a sessions and Tubby & Coo's will still sell books.
"At this moment I am heartened by people helping one another with errands, chores, gifts of much needed paper products, and so much more," wrote Catherine Weller of Weller Book Works, Salt Lake City, Utah, in her "A Word from Catherine" e-newsletter column earlier this week. "Likewise, the booksellers of Weller Book Works impress me with their dedication and generosity. Those unable to work have been accommodated by co-workers or have given their hours to someone more at ease in a public space. Another bookseller stepped away from his duties entirely so others not as financially well off could work his shifts. We started a Mutual Aid board so people with something to share could connect with a co-worker who needed something. They've all cleaned like we've never cleaned before and maintained safe distances from each other and customers.... All of that so we could maintain our bookstore community.
"You, our customers have ordered over the phone and online in large numbers. You've called and written with your support. Thank you!!! Your efforts have helped keep our doors open and our booksellers employed thus far. We are always grateful for each and every of your purchases; we're doubly so now.
"Now, to keep our bookstore community safe, we must close our doors to the public until the Covid-19 emergency has abated. Tony and I made the difficult decision to furlough our employees so there will be a store for them to come back to when this is all over. In the meantime, as long as we can, Tony and I will be in the store processing orders for shipments and curbside pick-up.... It's times such as these when we can become as small as our fears make us or as large as our hearts allow. Let's please continue to count on community...."
Georgia Court, owner of Bookstore1 in Sarasota, Fla., told Sarasota magazine that business had been increasing year over year and "we were on track to have the best season ever before all this happened."
As social-distancing recommendations increased in mid-March, Bookstore1 switched to curbside delivery. "We did that for about 10 days," she said. "It was working well, our customers seemed to like it. Business was like you'd find in an ordinary July. Then I got a little bit nervous about all these reports about people in our area who have traveled who may be wandering around downtown and may have the coronavirus without knowing it. I thought it would be smarter not to be interacting in that way that all."
On March 30, she notified her customers that the bricks-and-mortar store would temporarily close to the public completely, and books would be available online only. In her e-blast, she wrote: "If independent bookstores like ours are to survive in this difficult time we need your help. Online is just about the only option right now.... If you are not in Sarasota right now I ask--no, I beg--you to support your local independent bookstore."
Court will reevaluate toward the end of May whether to reopen in June: "This has been moving so fast, we've been making decisions on the fly, quite frankly. I've gotten loads of e-mails from customers saying thank you, we'll continue to support you, we appreciate what you're doing.... We'll get through this. It will be a few months. Of course, it's going to be a financial blow, but that's okay. We're going to be here when it's over."
The Humanities Washington blog created a list of bookstores "you can still buy from during the Covid crisis" and spoke with several booksellers, noting: "Bookstores connect us. Keep them alive, too."
"Information changes by the minute and emotions and anxieties are a roller coaster ride," said Mary Kay Sneeringer, owner of Edmonds Bookshop in Edmonds. "We are taking it day by day and are so grateful for the love and support that we feel from our friends and customers."
Paul Hanson, co-owner of Village Books, in Bellingham and Lynden, noted that indie bookstores are "the businesses that bring authors and illustrators to schools, have storytimes for the kids, and help you make a selection when you 'don't know what you want, I just want something good.' Those are the things that bring us joy and they will continue to bring us joy for many years."
For Liberty Bay Books in Poulsbo, the number of people buying online isn't currently enough: "This is, as yet, not going to pay our bills," said Suzanne Selfors. "So we need to rethink our strategy if we are to get through another month or possibly two. This is a dream turned nightmare."