In Brooklyn, N.Y., both Greenlight Bookstore locations have resumed in-store browsing and are operating on limited hours. No more than 10 customers are allowed in the store at a time, and all shoppers and staff must wear masks and use hand sanitizer. Co-owners Jessica Stockton Bagnulo and Rebecca Fitting have set up a "host station" just inside the front door to manage capacity, make sure customers understand Greenlight's safety guidelines and assist with pick-ups.
Like many indies, Greenlight has seen a huge uptick in e-commerce, and many customers are still opting to pay online and pick-up in-store. Bagnulo noted that in terms of sales, "less down is the new up," meaning that the store is definitely in better shape than it was a few months ago, though it will still likely be down by double digits for the year.
When asked about any bright spots over the past several months, Bagnulo said it's been great to see the store's audience for events "become national and even international" thanks to virtual events. The store's e-commerce sales were already growing prior to the pandemic, but out of necessity the store has had to "focus hard on that department" and streamline its systems in a lot of effective ways. The store's social media coordinator, she added, has spent the quarantine "seriously upping our Instagram Stories game."
Elaborating on the store's streamlined systems, Fitting noted that all special orders and pre-orders are now prepaid, and Greenlight is putting together a process for donating unclaimed orders after 30 days. This way, things are "much cleaner and more efficient" compared to pre-pandemic, when the store would order books for customers and then see "spotty follow through" on pick-up. With curbside pick-up here to stay, Fitting can see Greenlight keeping these systems in place, including prepayment. The store now has some remote work positions, which is completely new to Greenlight, but it's been "working incredibly well." They've always struggled a bit with office space, she continued, but it never occurred to them to address space issues by creating work-from-home opportunities for staff. And while everyone is a bit tired of Zoom meetings, the team is a "lot more connected and informed now thanks to Zoom."
On the subject of holiday buying, Fitting said it's been "such a challenge" this year. Following the shutdown in the spring, they were "very cautious" about buying, so Fitting approached the fall season monthly. In hindsight, however, Fitting feels this might bave been a mistake, as it was more work and it put the store "behind the eight ball" in terms of stock shortages at publishers. They've already been chasing a few titiles and are receiving some new releases late, though Fitting said they seem "mostly caught up now," and they are slowly and steadily stockpiling titles they feel might be hard to find.
Perhaps the biggest source of anxiety for Greenlight right now is the ongoing rise in Covid numbers and the potential of another shutdown in New York City. She noted that in Newark, N.J., all non-essential businesses were closed for in-door browsing recently in order to slow the spread of the virus, and she wishes New York had done the same. At the moment, only businesses within designated red zone areas must close, but they have to do so completely. Greenlight is not currently affected, but if there is enough of a surge in its area, it could be left with "stores full of books that we can't sell." The pressure, she added, is "mind-boggling."
After moving to a new location this summer, Second Flight Books in Lafayette, Ind., has reopened with its normal, pre-Covid hours, owners Laura and Justin Kendall reported. Laura Kendall said there are still a few boxes that need to be unpacked, and they're still working on redecorating a bit too, but the shop is otherwise fully open for business and customers seem to like it.
The store's new home is located across from Lafayette's Columbian Park, in a space that the Kendalls bought. Laura Kendall noted that while the old space was essentially one long room, the new shop has several small rooms, which creates a bit of a different vibe. So far they've been seeing a lot of new faces, as the shop is in a new neighborhood, and they are "loving the number of dogs who come in, since we're by a park."
When the store first reopened after shutting down in the spring, Second Flight was using a hybrid model: shortened hours and appointments available for half of the day. In recent months, however, hardly anyone was signing up for the appointments, so the Kendalls expanded hours and got rid of the appointments. Masks and hand sanitizer are required.
Second Flight's inventory consists of mostly used books, and typically the store sells far more new books and gifts over the holidays than it does throughout the rest of the year. However, between the pandemic and moving expenses, the owners have tried to be cautious with holiday spending. They've brought in a larger selection of cards than usual, since there may be less holiday travel going on, and they are stocking up on more sidelines and budget-friendly remainders.
Kendall has not seen much holiday traffic yet, though she's hoping that will increase in November. She hasn't done a ton of messaging about early shopping, but she has had many conversations with shoppers about how they should buy early or expect delays if they wait too long to buy popular titles. --Alex Mutter