Both Book Passage locations, in Corte Madera and San Francisco, Calif., have reopened to browsing at 20% occupancy, reported owner Elaine Petrocelli. While customers are shopping in person, many are still choosing to do pick-up or to have their books shipped, so more staff members than usual are being asked to focus on shipping and fulfillment. Though customers sometimes have to wait to enter the stores on weekends, the system is working well, Petrocelli said.
Petrocelli's biggest concern is that stricter Covid restrictions will be imposed due to the infection rates in the Bay Area. She noted that new restrictions always seem to come down on Tuesdays, the same day that new books are released. "We're in a situation where we don't know what happens tomorrow," she added. "On Tuesdays we're excited about new books, but we're always wondering what the new rules will be."
|Book Passage at the Ferry Building, San Francisco
Book Passage has had a signed first-edition club for almost 20 years, and for nearly 25 years the store has been doing personalized private book clubs. Both of those programs have been thriving throughout the pandemic, and the store's virtual Conversations with Authors series has been huge.
That series was developed with the help of ExtendedSession, a company owned by people who happen to be Book Passage customers. They walked into the store one day in the early weeks of the pandemic, Petrocelli recalled, and offered to help. The partnership has grown over the past nine months, and the events have led to many book sales and contributions to the store.
|Book Passage in Corte Madera
For the holidays, Petrocelli's head buyer bought heavily on books the team expected to do well, but in many cases those initial orders were not quite heavy enough. The store has sold through on some major titles, and Petrocelli doubts they'll be able to get more in before Christmas. Petrocelli and her team are trying their best to recommend alternatives, but it is frustrating as "customers are used to getting what they want from Book Passage."
The store encouraged customers to shop early for the holidays, and Petrocelli remarked that a lot of people did so. Now, though, the Book Passage team has increasingly been noticing that the people who bought holiday gifts in October and November are coming back for more. They're happy to see returning shoppers, but it is making the holiday season a bit more hectic.
When it comes to fulfilling online orders, the store has gotten much more efficient, but Petrocelli pointed out that it can get a little tricky when someone orders a copy of A Promised Land or another bestseller that is readily on hand along with a couple of "totally obscure" backlist titles.
While things are extremely busy, Petrocelli continued, the store will "miss being this busy in February." And "as horrible as the competition is, as scary as Covid is," there have been so many "lovely stories" of customers saying "I'm going to do all my holiday shopping with you."
In Riverside, Calif., Cellar Door Books is open for shopping by appointment and a limited number of walk-ins are allowed inside, but owner Linda Sherman-Nurick and her team have kept the doors locked "since this all began." Customers are asked to knock at the door and are allowed in for no more than 20 minutes if they are properly wearing masks. During the summer the store was allowing up to 10 people in at a time, but that has been reduced to five because of the ongoing surge in cases.
Sherman-Nurick reported that the store has been "overwhelmed" by community support. As part of a plan to provide books to underserved communities, the City of Riverside placed several large orders with the store, and there have been other large orders from a variety of groups, as well as "loads of new customers" who now understand the importance of shopping local.
The store's many book clubs have all switched to Zoom, and although Sherman-Nurick and her team miss meeting in person, they will probably continue including Zoom options for their book clubs.
On the subject of holiday ordering, she said she ordered less overall than she normally would, but ordered more copies of the titles in the various holiday catalogs, and "that's seemed to work." The holiday rush has started, she continued, but it's "much more online than before." Thanksgiving weekend and Small Business Saturday were better this year than last year, even though most of the store's sales were online. The store has benefited from things like the Indie Next List, holiday gift guides, ad campaigns encouraging shoppers to support small businesses and authors promoting indie bookstores on their social media.
Sherman-Nurick added that although it "took a while," her team has gotten much better at processing and fulfilling online orders. She called her staff "amazing," and said she's "really impressed" at how quickly booksellers, authors and publishers all adapted to these changes. --Alex Mutter