|(photo: Carol Mark)
In Ridgefield, Conn., Books on the Common reopened to browsing on July 6, after operating with no customers in-store for more than three months. Co-owners Ellen Burns and Darwin Ellis have maintained a limit of no more than five customers at a time, and they continue to offer curbside pickup and shipping. At a time when there are usually crowds in the store buying holiday gifts, now the phone "never stops ringing and e-mails come in all day and evening."
When asked whether there were any bright spots during these difficult months, Burns said their customers have been truly supportive, both during the shutdown in the spring and since it was lifted. It seems that the "shop local" message "has really gotten through this year," and the store is seeing "more first-time customers than we ever have before."
Burns said they approached holiday buying pretty conservatively, having "no idea what to expect for the holiday season when we were doing our frontlist ordering in July and August." Usually the store buys most most of its holiday sidelines at NYNow in August, which, of course, was canceled this year. Instead, Books on the Common did a lot of last-minute gift buying directly from vendors.
In particular, they brought in fewer calendars than in years past, with the idea that "during Covid, who the heck uses a calendar?" They're selling a lot of them, though, and they've had to restock calendars from wholesalers. The same is true of boxed holiday cards--they bought lightly, and they're already very low on stock.
The holiday rush for Books on the Common started in November. Sales were up 45% compared to November 2019, and big sellers have included A Promised Land by Barack Obama, The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson, Ina Garten's new cookbook Modern Comfort Food, as well as The Deep End by Jeff Kinney and The Ickabog by J.K. Rowling.
Currently, the store's biggest problem is being unable to get certain titles back in stock. Some are new releases, such as Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell and A Wealth of Pigeons by Steve Martin and Harry Bliss, but one surprise has been The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy, which came out last year.
Since reopening in May, Malaprop's Bookstore/Cafe in Asheville, N.C., has allowed in-person shopping by appointment only, with appointments reserved for North Carolina residents. Manager Justin Souther noted that "not everyone likes that," but the store is still offering curbside service and shipping.
Prior to the holidays, he and his team had wondered what the season would look like, and whether they could make do without being able to do much browsing. So far, though, the season has been "healthy" and "hectic." The vast majority of the store's business lately has been web orders, and there are fewer staff members working than usual, so they've been swamped.
Souther added that he imagines orders might peak this week, given the shipping deadlines for things arriving in time for Christmas. He hopes that people will start "looking for things on hand," which would also give the team more time to catch up on the backlog of holiday orders.
When it came to holiday buying this year, Souther said the team had to be "strategic," and after realizing that initial orders were low, they ordered up as best as they could. A few things are out of stock, but generally he's been "surprised by how much is still gettable," and in that regard it doesn't feel worse than any other holiday.
Souther has also been a bit surprised by just how well some very expensive hardcovers have sold, including Dolly Parton, Songteller: My Life in Lyrics by Dolly Parton and Robert K. Oermann and A Promised Land.
This year, Malaprop's launched a publishing imprint of its own and last week published its first title, the novel Requiem by Fire by Wayne Caldwell. Originally Malaprop's had planned to have it out in June, but with the pandemic its release was delayed.
Fine Print Booksellers in Kennebunkport, Maine, is closed two days a week and has shorter hours, owner Kristen Kuehnle reported. Kuehnle said that prior to becoming a Bookshop.org affiliate, she had no online shopping option; the development of the site has been the biggest bright spot for her. The store's holiday ordering has been limited, with Kuehnle adding that she's had trouble getting some titles because of printing problems this season. That being said, A Promised Land has remained available, and is her store's bestseller. --Alex Mutter