Book No Further in Roanoke, Va., reopened for browsing in early June after being closed for 11 weeks, reported Doloris Vest, who owns the store with her husband, Craig Coker. Initially the store reopened only for appointment browsing but there were few takers, and because so many people were trying to walk in anyway, Vest and her team soon allowed limited in-store browsing. During the shutdown, Vest added, the store sold exclusively through its IndieCommerce site and had several major sales through area non-profits.
Masks are required and gloves are available if requested; Vest said there have been "very few difficulties with masks." She attributed that to her clientele being "savvy enough to understand the importance." The one family that refused to wear masks and "got huffy and left" when she suggested scheduling a private browsing appointment were not regulars, she noted.
In the months since reopening, sales have gradually built back up to last year's levels and, if one counts the CARES money the store received, sales are actually ahead of last year. Vest pointed out that in-store traffic has steadily increased and there's been good retention of online customers as well. The store has also been fortunate to receive a fair amount of financial assistance, including PPP funds, an EIDL grant, BINC grants and a number of loans and grants from local business associations.
The store has, of course, dropped in-store events for Zoom events, which Vest said have gone fairly smoothly. There have been some "incredibly successful workshops" featuring faculty from Hollins University, which has a well-known creative writing program. Thanks to Zoom, Book No Further has attracted event participants from as far afield as Hawaii and Ireland.
Vest said she's been "overwhelmed" by the support from both customers and local authors, and IndieCommerce has been a "godsend." While turning her store into an online fulfillment center was not easy, she has learned "so many things" about the platform and she "truly appreciates" the technical assistance from the IndieCommerce team. She also gave a shout-out to the ABA and to SIBA, calling their open-discussion events "wonderful."
On the subject of holiday buying, Vest said this was only her fourth holiday season as a bookstore owner, and she's "still rather eclectic" in her approach. The store, which prominently features books by local and regional authors, orders from many small presses, and this year she's trying to "buy deeper into their backlists." She's keeping a close eye on new releases, and lists and reviews mentioned by regular customers as well.
Since the start of October, Vest has been following an "extensive weekly marketing calendar" to get the word out about shopping early. In addition to social media posts, paid online advertising and newsletters, she's working with several local media operations to advertise. For the first time, she is inserting the SIBA holiday catalogue, along with a coupon, in the Roanoke Times. Vest added that the average dollar amount and item count per sale, both in-store and online, are considerably up at the moment, which she attributed to early holiday shopping.
In Houston, Tex., Brazos Bookstore began doing curbside pick-up three days per week in April, and general manager Ülrika Moats reported that operations have slowly but steadily grown over the months since. The store is now open seven days a week for in-store browsing, with no more than seven customers allowed in at once. Moats noted that this limit is not from any sort of mandate, but is based on "what we think will be comfortable for customers."
Masks are required and hand sanitizer is available. There have been no major issues with mask resistance, and Moats said people have been "more than happy" to wait to enter the store. In general, the store's customers have been "very supportive," which has been one of the major bright spots of the last several months.
When it came to ordering for the holidays, Brazos Bookstore kept numbers a bit lower than normal, but otherwise approached things largely as the store normally would. As the holidays near, Moats and the team will keep an eye on where the store needs to reorder and will try to keep inventory of major titles at a high enough level. Customers seem to be doing more personal shopping than holiday shopping at the moment, she added, but the store will be releasing its holiday catalogue earlier and will start pushing early shopping more. --Alex Mutter