In Phoenixville, Pa., holiday sales for Reads & Company Bookshop were slightly up from 2019, reported co-owner Jason Hafer, but 2019 was the store's first holiday season. Still, Hafer continued, he and co-owner Robb Cadigan are "pretty pleased" with that sales increase, given the circumstances.
While holiday sales still peaked the week before Christmas, shopping was much more evenly spread throughout the fourth quarter. There was a noticeable increase in holiday buying in both October and November, and curbside pickup and special orders were "driving forces." Hafer said he and Cadigan were "very aggressive" about their safety precautions, with a strict occupancy limit and a "bookseller bouncer" stationed outside the store on Saturdays and Sundays.
Though Hafer and the team initially were concerned about customers becoming impatient or frustrated because of these measures, people were mostly appreciative. And to make waiting a little easier, the bookstore set up tables on the sidewalk so customers could browse while they waited.
Some of the store's bestselling titles were Untamed by Glennon Doyle, A Promised Land by Barack Obama, Me & Mr. Cigar by Gibby Haynes, The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett, and The Boy, the Mole, the Fox, and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy. Hafer pointed out that for Untamed and Me & Mr. Cigar, the store worked with their respective publishers on special promotions. Another store bestseller was Phoenixville Rising, a novel written by the store's co-owner based on local history.
Hafer said "shipping delays were real" during the holiday season, but ultimately "didn't affect us too badly." The store ordered directly from publishers that could turn orders around quickly, and then relied heavily on Ingram for most everything else. When it came to fulfilling customer orders, the store used the post office, which was "terribly slow," sometimes taking weeks, and he said there are still people waiting for books they ordered in November. As Christmas approached, Hafer upgraded many orders to UPS to help them reach customers in time.
The store stayed in "pretty good shape" as far as inventory goes. Hafer and the team made large initial orders and watched stock levels closely. The store didn't really run out of anything for more than a day or two at a time, except special orders where Ingram or the publisher were out of stock. That was more of a challenge, but Hafer found that most customers were understanding of the difficulties.
David Enyeart, store manager at Next Chapter Booksellers in St. Paul, Minn., said he and his team "threw everything at the wall" in 2020, including virtual events, online sales, home delivery, phone ordering, curbside pick-up and limited in-store browsing. He and his staff "ran ourselves ragged" trying to figure out what worked best, and in the end "no single strategy was an outstanding success." Sales were down for the holiday season, as they were for the entire year.
Despite a concerted effort on the part of Enyeart and his team to drive holiday preorders in October and November, December was still the biggest month of the year for sales. In fact, Enyeart said, it was "even more pronounced this year, adding that he had "no idea why." The store's single biggest title was, "far and away," A Promised Land. Caste by Isabel Wilkerson, Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer and Perestroika in Paris by Jane Smiley all did very well at Next Chapter, and the poetry collection Shelter by "local stalwart" Margaret Hasse was a "powerhouse."
The Best of Me by David Sedaris, Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart, The 99% Invisible City by Kurt Kohlstedt and Roman Mars and Owls of the Eastern Ice by Jonathan C. Slaght also managed to rack up "steady, solid sales" throughout the season. The titles that suffered this year, though, were midlist titles. Without customers browsing the shelves, there were fewer opportunities for them to discover lesser-known titles. The store also saw a "huge rise" in online orders for deep backlist.
While certain titles were hard to get in at times, it seemed there were fewer big books this year that were out of stock for long periods of time. Enyeart attributed this to a combination of the store's aggressive holiday buying and "slightly sluggish demand." Overall, it was an easier than average season for the store to stock highly sought-after titles.
Looking ahead, Enyeart brought up concerns about a "predictably slow winter" following a mediocre holiday season, and noted that "extended terms and delayed collection have a direct and important benefit to bookstores." --Alex Mutter