In St. Francesville, La., Conundrum Books & Puzzles has fully reopened for walk-in traffic. Owner Missy Couhig reported that there is hand sanitizer available both right outside and directly inside of the front door, and customers are asked to clean their hands before entering and to wear masks while they are in the store.
The vast majority of customers have worn masks, as it is mandated by the state, but there was one person who claimed they could not use hand sanitizer and left. Couhig has also noticed that while most everyone is wearing masks, not everyone is wearing them correctly. Some people leave their noses exposed, others pull the mask up when entering and then let it slide down while browsing and or put it on only while talking.
Couhig and her team have not resumed doing events yet, though technically she could start hosting small gatherings per the state's reopening guidelines. Couhig explained that at this point, she's simply not sure how many people would come and if authors would be interested.
|At Conundrum, bookstore dog Lady is ready to greet customers.
The real change for the store, she continued, is that tourism has come to a complete halt. St. Francesville is on the Mississippi River, and usually riverboat tourism brings plenty of visitors every summer. Before the pandemic, 127 boats were scheduled to dock in St. Francesville between April 1 and the end of the year. So far, none of those boats have come and only five docking days remain scheduled until 2021.
Between the lack of tourism and cancelled events, including literary festivals, gardening festivals and Christmas marketplaces, store sales are down by about 20%. Couhig credited the fact that they aren't down even further to how quickly she and her team pivoted to online sales. Before the state officially locked down, she was already posting book recommendations each day. This helped ensure pick-up and shipping sales during the lockdown and has widened the store's social media following. Couhig added that because she's sourcing books for those daily recommendations (she's nearly at day 200 now), the store is much better stocked than it normally would be at this time of year.
Couhig noted that just a week before the state shutdown, a large order of puzzles arrived that would normally have lasted at least four or five months. The store sold out of that order in just 10 days.
Jill Miner, owner of Saturn Booksellers in Gaylord, Mich., reported that her store reopened for browsing on June 15, with a limit of six customers at one time. Masks are required and there are hand sanitizer stations at each of the store's three entrances. There are wood-framed plexiglass barriers at each cash wrap, and before reopening in June, Miner and her team cleaned and sanitized the shop from "top to bottom." Every Wednesday morning the store is reserved for the elderly and other at-risk groups until noon, and the store is still offering curbside pick-up.
Miner said that for the most part, everyone has been appreciative of the store's efforts to keep staff and customers safe, and many people have gone out of their way to thank them. There have been a few disgruntled anti-maskers, however, and she noted that the store is connected to a coffee shop that doesn't require masks. There have been people who try to enter the bookstore through the coffee shop without a mask on, and need to be reminded to put on their mask. Masks are provided to those who haven't brought their own.
|Saturn's political books display: "Buy the one you came in for, get the opposing viewpoint half off."
When people have given her team grief, Miner continued, staff members try to explain patiently that books are still available to pick up curbside, or can be delivered to customers' homes via web order. One "memorable gentleman," Miner recalled, picked up a hand sanitizer bottle after being asked to spritz his hands and sprayed his underarms, before finishing with a "rude gesture" to staff. Remarked Miner: "We rather hope that never comes out of his shirt."
Sales have been down about 14.5% since March 23, when the store originally shut down. Since the store reopened on June 15, however, sales have been down 9.6%, Miner said, "so we've made up a little ground." The brightest spot was how quickly customers transitioned to placing orders through the store's website once Saturn Booksellers closed for browsing.
Grants from the Book Industry Charitable Foundation and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, along with a PPP loan, have helped Miner retain her whole staff and restock her store over the last several months. She has been trying to keep expenses in check with streamlined hours, more online marketing, smarter buys and prompter returns, and so far she's been able to reward her employees for their hard work and adaptability with raises and a bonus as sales began to pick up.
On the subject of the protests that began nationwide in response to the murder of George Floyd, Miner said she's been pleasantly surprised by how well the titles in the store's various Black Lives Matter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and political displays have sold, given that the area is "overwhelmingly conservative." --Alex Mutter