In Northfield, Minn., Content Bookstore is "getting the hang of the new normal," reported store owner Jessica Peterson White. Customers are able to browse and buy in a "more or less normal way," with the store's capacity limited and all standard safety precautions--such as distancing, masks and hand sanitizer--in place. Now that the holiday season is over, the limited capacity is much easier to manage, and she added that some customers still manage to seem surprised by the store's mask requirements, though that is getting rarer and rarer.
Located in a college town, the store has a number of employees who are college students, and White noted that at the start of the term there were a few two-week periods where the team was short-handed. Those disruptions are thankfully over, and in general the whole community is proud of and happy with how conscientious the students have been. Workstations have been arranged to allow for ample social distancing and staff members sanitize high-touch surfaces often. There are also new air purifiers throughout the store and in the break room.
Content Bookstore continues to see a much higher than normal volume of online orders for shipping, curbside pick-up and local delivery, and White said she and her team are still dealing with some delays and unpredictability in fulfillment from suppliers. They heard from customers, in fact, that adding more non-book listings to the store's website has made it easier for customers to keep their visits short. Many people now "pre-shop" on the website before buying in-store.
Last year, Content Bookstore saw its "biggest year-over-year growth" since the store opened in 2014. White and her team heard from so many customers "that they had a new commitment to shopping locally for the holidays," and so far in 2021, the store seems to be retaining a lot of those customers. Presumably, they've discovered that shopping with indies is "not only virtuous" but also "a lot more fun and satisfying."
Looking ahead, White said she has "no idea what to expect." She's been adjusting goals week-to-week because she doesn't know how things will shape up during the first half of the year. So far, though, things have been very positive, with January 2021 up considerably over the same time last year.
Holland Saltsman, owner of The Novel Neighbor in Webster Groves, Mo., said her store is back to normal hours and open to browsing with masks required and capacity limited. There are sanitizer stations throughout the store, plexiglass shields around the register and an outside company does thorough cleaning. The store continues to offer curbside pick-up and shipping and is doing virtual author events as well as virtual school visits.
Looking back on 2020, Saltsman said that while there were a few months during which the store was up, 35%-40% of the store's sales normally come from events, and "there was no way to completely make up for that loss." Those events, she pointed out, included not just author signings but book-themed birthday parties, acoustic shows, classes and more.
Last year the store introduced mystery boxes that have become big sellers, and the team also worked wth a blogger and podcaster called Modern Mrs. Darcy to curate the book club boxes for her fall, winter and spring selections. With no events taking place, the team moved non-book items into the store's event spaces, which resulted in much higher gift sales than in previous years.
Saltsman reported that 2021 has started out a bit slower than 2020, but January and February are some of the store's slowest months in any year. There are some school author visits coming up that she hopes will generate some solid sales, and otherwise the team is using the extra time to tighten up HR, review store policies, source new merchandise and more. --Alex Mutter