|Madison Street Books celebrated its grand opening in mid-March, but had to close two days later.
Mary Mollman and Javier Ramirez opened Madison Street Books in Chicago, Ill., in early March, and closed because of the coronavirus only two days later. Mollman said the past three months have been especially surreal, and she and Ramirez had very mixed emotions when their new store almost immediately became a fulfillment center for online orders.
"We were so very grateful for the orders that were keeping us afloat, but fulfillment versus handsell are two very different things," said Mollman.
Beyond the emotional impact, the sudden closure has had a significant financial impact as well. The store's 90 days of sales for its opening order were during the shutdown, and she and Ramirez have shifted funds from things like signage and paper goods to cover invoices. It has, however, "started to get a bit tricky." While opening a new bookstore is always risky, they thought they would be "starting out on flat ground, not climbing out of a hole."
The store has reopened for browsing, and according to Chicago's guidelines, they can have a maximum of 10 people in at a time, including staff. By law everyone is required to wear a mask, and the store has both hand sanitizer and gloves available for customers. Mollman noted that her preference is gloves, given that people love to touch books while browsing and the store is not large enough to allow for putting touched books on a cart and letting them sit for several days.
Most people, she reported, have been "incredibly grateful" for the precautions they are taking. Community members watched the store come together over the first six months, and then were unable to browse. Now they finally can, and people are very excited, which Mollman said has been great to see.
A little less than a month ago, as protests began in cities around the country, Mollman and Ramirez were unable to get to their store over an entire weekend because of steps the mayor of Chicago took to keep people out of the Loop, so "it was fingers crossed." There are residential units above the store, and they asked their neighbors to keep an eye out. And while there was looting in the neighborhood, the store was not damaged. Subsequently, they boarded up the store and remained closed for a week. They opened for business the following Sunday but kept the boards in place, and did not remove them until the next weekend after that. All told, the store has been open for three weeks and without boards for two weeks.
Mollman said they've affirmed their commitment to racial equality on social media and through in-store displays of anti-racist titles, and over July 4th weekend, the store will donate 10% of its sales to a local community organization promoting racial equality.
|Door-side orders at East Bay Booksellers
In Oakland, Calif., East Bay Booksellers has re-opened for front-door service Monday through Friday. Owner Brad Johnson said they are probably still a few weeks away from opening for browsing, as he is very concerned about the increasing rate of hospitalizations in California and "nobody has adequately explained to me why it is not the same sort of problem" that resulted in shutdowns in March.
In July, Johnson continued, he'll have his full team of booksellers on board again, and there is a great deal of work to be done: there is freight to deal with, some of it dating back to March, inventory to take, returns to ship and returning staff members to train in online fulfillment. He and his team will use the first few weeks in July to figure out the store will look and operate with social distancing guidelines in place.
Looking ahead, Johnson said "social distancing is the key," and noted that just this week they added a third bookseller to their in-store team. He plans to play it by ear over the next few weeks and make sure everybody feels comfortable with the working environment.
Generally speaking, he reported, the store's community is pretty on-board with social distancing and wearing masks. It remains to be seen, however, how on board they are with his "conservative stance on reopening," as more and more businesses reopen in the area. Many people are anxious, while others understand completely and approve of the caution. Johnson has tried to be candid in all of the store's communications with customers, and that will be key going forward.
On the subject of the ongoing protests, Johnson said East Bay Booksellers has been "vocally and actively supportive." A nearby high school was the staging ground for one of the larger protests a few weeks ago, so plenty of people walked by the store on the way to that, and last weekend a march went right by the store.
Twenty percent of the sales from the store's Antiracist Reading List have gone toward bail funds in the East Bay and elsewhere, and Johnson noted that while his store has certainly sold its share of bestsellers of the day, their marketing push has been on university and independent press treatments, which often have a more "radical ideological bone to pick" with white supremacy and police violence.