In San Antonio, Tex., Nowhere Bookshop was set to open to the public for the first time on April 1. General manager Elizabeth Jordan--former CEO at BookPeople in Austin--had submitted her opening inventory orders to her sales reps the week of March 9 and was working toward hiring a full staff. By that Friday, she was calling the reps to cancel her orders, as it was clear the store wouldn't open for at least a few weeks. She had hired two full-time booksellers by that point, and has been able to keep both of them employed.
The store has been doing a robust online business that began in October 2019, selling bookstore merchandise and books signed by store owner and author Jenny Lawson. Last December, the store launched a subscription club called the Fantastic Strangelings Book Club, which has 2,700 members and is "the bulk of what's keeping us afloat at the moment."
In March, Jordan and the team set up a Bookshop.org page, and that helped sustain things until May, when they made the decision to work toward a June 1 soft opening date. They ordered books, filled the shelves and made plans to hire and train more staff, but Texas opened up too quickly. When they saw the resultant spike in Covid cases, they pulled back on opening plans once again. In June, Nowhere Bookshop started offering curbside pick-up and online shopping of the store's full inventory, which has been the business model ever since.
When Jordan and her colleagues noticed they weren't selling many of their children's items, they launched a House Cat Kits box. It has been "really successful" and has allowed the team to "shop our own shelves for online customers." It also lets them stretch their "handselling muscles," which Jordan said "honestly feel a bit atrophied" at this point. They are toying with the idea of offering appointment shopping for the holidays, but Nowhere Bookshop is operating mostly as a warehouse at the moment. The thought of reconfiguring it into a retail space is "daunting."
Jordan reported that the store has had great support locally and internationally, and, thanks to the subscription club and steady stream of online orders, they can be "as conservative as we want to be when it comes to deciding whether to let the public in."
Jordan said she imagines that the store will continue to offer curbside pick-up even after the doors are finally open to the public. She and her team have also put a big focus on preorders this year, which have been "wildly successful," so they will continue that. They've also put as much of their non-book inventory onto their website as possible. They plan to continue doing that as well, though it "takes a bit of effort."
For the holidays, Jordan tried to be as cautious with ordering, knowing that it was likely that the store wouldn't be fully open to the public. The team focused instead on things they know will appeal to their online customers. Jordan added that they are still getting a feel for what local customers want from the store.
When asked whether they're emphasizing early holiday shopping with their customers, Jordan said they've been so busy that at times they've had to "go quiet" on social media just to catch up on orders. Holiday orders are starting to come in anyway, though, and everyone seems to have gotten the message that "this is going to be a holiday season like no other." She noted that election week was "super quiet," but after Saturday, orders started flowing in again. She hopes that bodes well for the rest of the year, and pointed out that the store is partnering with two local elementary schools for virtual holiday shopping fairs.
Before the pandemic began seriously to disrupt normal life in the middle of March, Ashay by the Bay in Vallejo, Calif., held frequent outdoor events and educational conferences. Owner Deborah Day reported that that, of course, has changed, and now Ashay by the Bay focuses primarily on online sales. She added that the store's school business is still going, which has created a "major portion of our revenue."
At the store, Day and her team are doing curbside-only for now. She and her staff wear masks, wash their hands frequently, especially after handling shipments, and sanitize work spaces on a regular basis. When asked about any bright spots amid the pandemic, Day said she's always had a home office and she's been selling books online for almost 20 years. She is especially thankful now that she had her home business already set up.
On the subject of holiday buying, Day said the store has stocked up and they are encouraging people to shop early. "It's a must if we want to deliver on-time." --Alex Mutter