Emily Hall Schroen, owner of Main Street Books in St. Charles, Mo., reports that "things are moving along smoothly" at the store, which reopened to browsing in early May. Masks are still required, occupancy is still limited to no more than 10 customers at a time, and there is still a bespoke sneeze guard by the register. Schroen said she's a bit concerned about the 10-customer limit going into the holidays, as St. Charles holds a month-long Christmas festival every year, and on a typical December Saturday, the store would usually see 15-30 customers in-store at a time.
During the town's Halloween festival, she continued, she and her team had to place several X's on the sidewalk outside the store so that customers could wait in "some semblance of an official line." Schroen added that for the most part, customers did wait, mostly happily, and, in general, customers have been "very understanding and grateful" and "really patient."
The store's online sales have increased significantly over the past eight months, and Schroen said she'd really like her customers to keep buying online even after the pandemic. The store has offered online shopping since late 2018, but it was not until the middle of March that they began to see significant traffic. Online buying has opened up the store to many customers who otherwise would never be able to make it in person, including some local folks who have moved to Florida, a father and son who live in southern Illinois and more. Local customers also enjoy the convenience of buying online and picking up curbside. It's been very gratifying, Schroen added, to see repeat customers and to send books to "all sorts of different places."
When it came to ordering for the holidays, Schroen cut her fall frontlist orders by about 25% compared to the last three years. She's trying to stock up on popular books, since supply-chain issues seem inevitable in the coming weeks. The goal is to have enough copies of key titles so the store doesn't run out until right after Christmas. Schroen noted that she really wishes there was "some kind of secret bookseller formula" for figuring that out, but without one she's taken an educated guess. She ordered heavily on A Promised Land and will have a "huge number" of children's holiday titles available--"Hopefully that will keep us going until January."
Schroen and her team have been encouraging customers to shop early. This week they sent out a store newsletter with some of the ABA's Shop Early language in it, and the team has been trying to keep that messaging consistent in the store when directly interacting with customers. People have been "super receptive," and at least once a day they get someone at the counter telling staff they're shopping local for Christmas, and they're doing it early to avoid crowds.
Throughout the pandemic, numerous customers have come in, bought a stack of books, and told Schroen that they want to make sure the store stays in the community. The pandemic has been hard, she said, but Main Street Books has "been very fortunate."
Boogie Down Books, a children's bookstore-without-walls based in the Bronx, N.Y., moved all of its events to Zoom in March, when the coronavirus shutdowns began. Owner and founder Rebekah Shoaf reported that the move to virtual events has allowed children and families from around the world to join for storytime sessions, book clubs, read-aloud and cook-along sessions and more. Given how small the operation is, Shoaf continued, it's been "very special" to see how people have found Boogie Down Books from "near and far."
Prior to the pandemic, the event readers used to be mostly volunteers and educators, with an occasional author or illustrator joining in. Now, it's about 99% authors and illustrators, and publishers have been reaching out to see if there is space for their authors. She added that it's been great to be able to build connections directly between authors and illustrators and their readers and fans.
Virtual events have also allowed Shoaf and her team to bring students and educators from different schools together for the same event. She noted, too, that in the early fall, Boogie Down Books was able to host a storytime on a rooftop for about six weeks. Limited numbers of people could attend in person; the events were broadcast over Zoom. The outdoor events met with a great response, she said, and she's received invitations from other outdoor spaces to hold events there. But with the rising number of Covid cases and increased restrictions coming into effect, she's holding off on any more outdoor events for now.
Shoaf said her team has "really stepped up" during the pandemic, and she has been inspired by and grateful for the work they've been able to do. The team has expanded to include a yoga teacher who comes up with a movement routine each week based on the Saturday storytime's featured book. With so many children stuck inside at the moment, Boogie Down Books is making sure to incorporate some kind of movement into all of its sessions.
Boogie Down Books has been continuing its partnerships to send books to juveniles and young adults in New York City jails. The team has also been replenishing several nearby Little Free Libraries. --Alex Mutter