Home Bookselling How local bookstores survived the pandemic

How local bookstores survived the pandemic

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Since the lockdown began 17 months ago, Bay Area booksellers have discovered anecdotally that reading trends reflect the events of the pandemic.

Last March, as uncertainty spread over the future of schools and in-person teaching, Chris Saccheri, co-owner of Linden Tree Children’s Bookstore, saw a huge demand for educational workbooks, children’s reading books and puzzles. When the community donned masks and painted BLM signs in June, Cheenie Durham, director of Books Inc. in Palo Alto, reported that sales of social justice books had skyrocketed.

And throughout the pandemic, one genre of book – the escape – has always been popular, owners of small bookstores have said.

Although the books were in high demand, many booksellers, eager to continue reaching their customers despite ordering shelters in place in California, had to adapt their business models and expand their online offerings.

Local booksellers agree that unlike large book-selling companies such as Amazon, their stores are an integral part of their communities, providing places to gather and reflecting their community’s interests with more personal curations.

“When you only rely on bookstore chains, you rely on mass market bestsellers as your main offering,” said Faith Bell, owner of Bell’s Books, a used, new and rare bookstore in Palo Alto. . “With independent bookstores, the title offerings can reflect the interests of the people working in the bookstore, so it has a more personal touch.”

Like many other businesses that rely heavily on in-person shopping, independent bookstores have struggled during the pandemic. When Kepler’s Books in Menlo Park closed for five months, they saw a significant drop in sales, wrote Kepler’s Literary Foundation CEO and board member Praveen Madan in an email. And according to Durham, supply chains have also been disrupted, driving up book prices, lengthening reprint processes and forcing publishers to extend release dates for certain titles.

Along with increasingly popular innovations like curbside pickup or virtual events, independent bookstores were also processing online orders, which was relatively rare before the pandemic. While this change was a huge success for stores like Linden Tree, which packed up to 70 orders per day, online orders also created challenges and increased competition.

“The pandemic… forced us to play a little on the Amazon lawn for several months. We’re a little mom-and-pop store; we are not a $ 2,000 billion company. We can’t afford to offer free overnight delivery, and we can’t store all the books in the sun, ”Saccheri said.

In addition to online sales, many stores, such as Kepler’s Books and Bell’s Books, offered outdoor shopping. Bell’s Books has set up navigation tables at their front door for specific topics. Bell explained that for many of its customers who buy used or rare books, in-person browsing is essential to assess the physical condition of the book.

Meanwhile, Linden Tree has recreated the experience of shopping at a bookstore by offering private online dates. Booksellers would walk around the store, show the books to customers, and make recommendations by video call.

“People just enjoy the kind of one-on-one interaction, no distractions from other customers,” Saccheri said.

Some bookstores have moved to respond to supply chain disruptions caused by the pandemic and unemployment. According to Madan, Kepler’s Books has started a partnership to supply books to the local Menlo Park library. To avoid layoffs, they redesigned and marketed their paid membership program, which, according to their website, is “essential in [their] continued efforts to pay fair wages to our hard-working staff. Madan said that these efforts have paid off: not only has it increased the income of their members by 70%, but has also strengthened their efforts to increase staff salaries.

While many bookstores are unsure of what the coronavirus will mean for their stores, they are encouraging the community to continue buying local. They remain committed to providing what Durham describes as “a haven for humans, a place to gather, a place to contemplate your fate, a wild chaotic event”.