In Atlanta, Ga., A Cappella Books remains closed to in-store browsing, reported owner Frank Reiss. The store's entire inventory is available on its website, and customers can place special orders there as well. At checkout, there're options for curbside pick-up, home delivery (depending on ZIP code) and shipping. Reiss noted that this became the store's new normal pretty much as soon as the pandemic hit, and it will probably "remain our normal until it is over." He and his team have considered adding some form of appointment shopping, but don't feel comfortable enough yet to move ahead with it, given the new surge in cases.
On the subject of safety precautions, Reiss pointed out the store is so small that not letting customers in is the "only realistic safety precaution we have been able to put in place." The store's regular customers, as well as the overwhelming majority of people who come by, are understanding and supportive. Still, it is not terribly uncommon for "unsuspecting strangers" to walk up and try to yank the door open. Reiss added: "Yankers typically don't wear masks."
Staff members, meanwhile, work in small shifts and wear masks. There is hand sanitizer at every work station and shared surfaces are cleaned frequently.
When asked about any bright spots amid the pandemic, Reiss said there have been many, mostly involving the support and appreciation the store has received from its customers. Though home deliveries have presented some significant challenges, they've proven to be a great way to connect personally with a lot of customers, and he plans to continue doing deliveries when the "original impetus for doing it has passed." Also, being forced to communicate remotely has led the team to recognizing all sorts of ways they can improve their systems in that regard.
For the most part, the store's approach to holiday buying this year was fairly normal, since A Cappella Books is "generally pretty conservative on that front anyway." Reiss explained that the store is not "big on encouraging our customers to do anything in particular," and while the fourth quarter is usually the store's best quarter, A Cappella is less dependent on massive holiday sales than many other bookstores.
The store's biggest revenue hit has been from lost event sales, but thankfully some of the bookstore's community partners have been very active on the virtual events front. Virtual events can't replace the real thing, in terms of sales or experience, but they have helped soften the blow. And they've allowed the store to work with some "truly incredible" authors who normally would never have been able to visit.
Casey Coonerty Protti, owner of Bookshop Santa Cruz in Santa Cruz, Calif., said her store is open to the public, and though there are no mandatory restrictions on occupancy in California, she and her team have capped things at 25%. The store continues to offer curbside pick-up and shipping as well.
Masks are required and customers must use hand sanitizer upon entry, and there is a greeter at the front door to make sure these things happen. The most recent change Protti and her team have made has been alternating the spaces staff members use during breaks and lunches, so that no unmasked employee is near another unmasked employee. She noted that they feel the biggest risk is among staff, as "we spend the most amount of time together." As such, there are very strict policies in place about social distancing, mask wearing and sanitizing for staff.
At this point, Protti continued, she couldn't imagine her customers ever allowing her to get rid of curbside pick-up. Many of the store's systems have been updated in beneficial ways, including texting customers when special orders arrive and integrating POS and IndieCommerce. Some of the special offerings the store has introduced, such as care packages, stocking-stuffer grab bags, custom ornaments for donation, subscription boxes and more, also probably won't be going away after Covid.
On the subject of the holidays, Protti reported that the store has been generally conservative with holiday buying, but has ordered up significantly on certain titles. Book buyers have been buying month-to-month and sidelines buyers have been pivoting as sales have changed. She added that they've already pre-sold more than 200 copies of Barack Obama's memoir.
Protti and her team started asking customers to shop early more than a month ago, and "they are responding." October was the store's best month since the pandemic started, although sales are still down overall. The store moved its annual sale from November to October, launched all holiday offerings with the option for customers to buy now and ship later, and published the holiday newsletter earlier than usual. The store was also part of a Shop Early, Shop Local campaign launched by Santa Cruz's Downtown Association, and Protti was on the cover of the city's weekly newspaper last month, discussing the need to shop early.
The only ways to make up for the store's limits on occupancy, Protti explained, are by spreading out the season and having people shop from the store's website. "We are really pushing both avenues as the key to our survival." --Alex Mutter