In Decatur, Ga., Little Shop of Stories has remained closed to customers since early spring, store co-owner Diane Capriola reported. The case numbers in Georgia, Capriola explained, never got to a place where the team felt comfortable about reopening. And now that cases are "really on the rise again," the store will remain closed to browsing indefinitely.
Little Shop of Stories has essentially become an online fulfillment center, Capriola continued, as the store's web sales have "really taken off." Those also include spring and fall book fairs, which have become virtual during the pandemic. She noted that after an initial learning curve, she and her team are feeling more confident with virtual events, and "we are seeing those results in increased book sales."
Capriola said the "outpouring of love from our community" has really helped sustain the store throughout the pandemic. While some people "don't understand our choice to remain closed to customers," the store's regular customers "continue to stand by us." They send Capriola and her staff notes, their kids draw pictures for the team and they even buy the team lunch from time to time. Capriola added that her landlord has been "incredibly supportive" and has become her "favorite person in the world."
Just before Covid hit, the bookstore did a test run of weekend deliveries. Once the store closed to customers, the team began offering deliveries in the store's ZIP code and adjacent areas. At this point, Capriola said she "can't imagine" the store will ever go back to not offering delivery, and while she hopes the store will become a community meeting place again, she predicts that "a lot of our customers will continue to shop with us online as well as request delivery."
Capriola said the store's holiday buying was generally very conservative, except for highly anticipated titles like A Promised Land or Ready Player Two, and titles that her booksellers had personally championed. Because the store is still closed to browsing, the non-book buying was especially cautious. And as Little Shop of Stories is primarily a children's bookstore, many sidelines will be bundled with a book or two.
Little Shop of Stories began promoting early holiday shopping on October 1, making use of the ABA's "October Is the New December" material. At least initially, it seemed that people were hesitant to spend money, perhaps because of the stress around the election and worsening pandemic. Post-election and with the news of a coming vaccine, the store is "definitely seeing increased optimism."
The pandemic has necessitated changing a lot of the store's long-standing holiday traditions. The Gingerbread Story Time and Holiday Ornament Workshop are both now virtual. Customers can purchase boxed sets for both, featuring special items and links to the virtual events.
Over the past few months, Linden Tree Books in Los Altos, Calif., has been slowly ramping up its hours, reported Chris Saccheri, who co-owns the store with Flo Grosskurth. The store is now open six hours a day, six days a week. That's substantially fewer hours than pre-pandemic, but it "feels like the right amount so far." Saccheri noted that the team has loved having a day off to reset and recharge, so they'll likely stay closed on Mondays for the foreseeable future.
|Linden Tree's door "porter"
This month the store began offering private shopping appointments. Each 30-minute slot is limited to a single family. They've been so popular, said Saccheri, that the team has had to increase the number of slots available, both before and after regular store hours. Most of the people scheduling appointments are either unable or unwilling to come to the store during normal browsing or they want "focused time with a bookseller for gift recommendations."
Saccheri said the California Independent Booksellers Alliance holiday catalog has been huge for the store this year, and this was the first year that the store has branded the catalog and inserted it into the local newspaper. The response has led to great traffic both online and in-store. And even though the store is primarily a children's bookstore, they've seen a significant bump in adult sales this year. Local deliveries and private shopping appointments, Saccheri added, are "likely here to stay."
Like many stores, Linden Tree scaled back its frontlist buying for the holidays, though the team still tried to bring in a diverse selection of titles. Quantities were generally smaller, with the exception of the "blockbusters." The store rolled out a set of pre-made holiday gift bundles this week and built a mystery wheel for Black Friday/Small Business Saturday. When customers check out, a staff member spins the wheel and "your prize could be anything from a discount on your purchase to a free ARC."
The team has been pushing the shop-early message, and has seen a surge of holiday shopping over the past few weeks. But, Saccheri pointed out, "procrastination is a tough habit to break! We'll see what happens in December." --Alex Mutter