Sandra Dear, owner of The Little Boho Bookshop in Bayonne, N.J., reported that her store was closed from the middle of March until June 22. The store is open for browsing now, with restrictions on occupancy and masks required for all. There are sanitizing stations around the store, and customers have to sanitize "the minute you enter the store." Despite those restrictions, Dear added, she's trying to make things at her store feel "as normal as it can possibly get."
Prior to reopening in June, Dear and her team reached out to customers saying they wanted to reopen, but could "only do so if you help us." Customers have been fantastic about both following safety guidelines and supporting the store in general, she said. The Little Boho Bookshop was closed for four months and has yet to receive any kind of assistance. The store is only still open because customers "lifted us up and brought us here."
When asked about how she's approached holiday buying this year, Dear said it has "created a level of anxiety" for her and her team. They quickly realized that the options were either commit to books early and then "work your butt off" to sell them, or wind up having to "chase books" throughout the holidays. They committed to key titles that they feel their customers will want and also stocked up on essential nonbook items.
This month, they've been promoting Christmas in October "in a big way." Online customers have responded well to that message, and to promote things in-store they've been hosting pop-ups each weekend with a variety of small local businesses that sell complementary products. Social media has been a major part of getting the early shopping message out, and in general the store has been leaning on social media heavily throughout the pandemic. Dear added that by October 24, it's "going to look like Christmas" at her store. "We don't have the luxury of waiting."
Over the past few months, The Little Boho Bookshop has been featured on a variety of lists of Black-owned bookstores to support. Dear said she never really identified her store as a Black-owned store, though "my customers knew who I was--you walk in and there's a Black lady." This wave of support for Black-owned businesses, she continued, has taken "a bit of anxiety away" and has been "a bit freeing as well." While she's happy that her store and other Black-owned stores are getting more attention, she said that her customers "are not coming to us because I'm African American, but because of the ambience in store and online." Her message, she pointed out, is "this is our happy place. Come and make it yours."
|While Seminary Co-op remains closed to browsers, curbside pick-up is available.
In Chicago, Ill., The Seminary Co-op Bookstores have yet to reopen for browsing. Jeff Deutsch, director of Seminary Co-op and 57th Street Books, reported that their community has been "overwhelmingly supportive" of the decision to remain closed. While there have been some "stray complaints," they've been reasonable and were mostly all assuaged "after a bit of dialogue."
When the store closed in March, marketing director Clancey D'Isa immediately set to work on developing a tool for "armchair browsing for the socially distant." That led to The Front Table, a digital publication that highlights the titles staff members are particularly passionate about. The Front Table, Deutsch noted, was originally a print publication that mirrored what was being displayed on the co-op's front table. They plan to keep this digital version going "for years to come."
In late May and early June, after protests began around the country in response to the murder of George Floyd, Seminary Co-op put together a reading list that "went beyond the bestseller list." At the same time, there were "profound internal conversations" about the bookstore's responsibilities as an institution. Among other things, Seminary Co-op developed a de-escalation training plan and a statement about police engagement, both of which are now permanent parts of the employee handbook. --Alex Mutter