Along with the significant shutdown of the nation’s public libraries, independent booksellers are joining the call for social distancing and closing on a temporary basis, at least to the public, with many stores continuing to process shipments and/or make deliveries. Powell’s Books is among the most prominent to close so far, at least through the end of March, shuttering all five retail locations while continuing to operate online. New York area stores announcing closures include Astoria Bookshop, Three Lives & Company, Inquiring Minds (New Paltz), and Words Bookstore (Maplewood, NJ). Literati Bookstore in Ann Arbor, MI was among the first to announce its closure online. Stores closing in Boston and beyond include: Belmont Books; Brattle Book Shop; Brookline Booksmith; Harvard Book Store; I AM Books; MIT Press Bookstore; Newtonville Books; Papercuts J.P.; and An Unlikely Story in Plainville. Others announcing closures online include The Ripped Bodice in LA, Letters Bookshop in Durham, and Solid State Books in Washington, DC. As with libraries, expect that wave to build quickly. But unlike the libraries, independent bookstores have no automatic municipal backstop (see below for more information), and the needs will be profound. (As you probably recognize, the first wave of impact hit airport and other travel-related bookstores, which often have remained open but have seen their traffic all but go away, and then college bookstores and independent stores in college towns, where increasingly the shutdowns are for the whole semester, not just a few weeks.)
The Book Industry Charitable Foundation, which has always focused on booksellers in need, stands ready to support individual booksellers with funds for personal and medical expenses. An initial matching gift challenge was started with a pool of up to $7,500 from literary agent Steven Malk at Writers House (the son and grandson of independent booksellers) and up to $5,000 from Beacon Press.
Another easy promotion to help independent stores as they close temporary is an offer from their digital audiobook partner, Libro.fm. Consumers who initiate new Libro memberships by using the code SHOPBOOKSTORESNOW will get two audiobooks for the price of one ($14.99), and the company promises that the entire payment “will go to your local bookstore.” Similarly, for any one-month gift membership, the entire payment will go to the bookstore partner. For quirky ideas, used bookseller Capitol Hill Books in Washington, DC invited customers who “dream of having Capitol Hill Books all to yourself” to email firstname.lastname@example.org “to reserve a one hour time slot” to visit.
The ABA also has a new post addressing some of booksellers’ most urgent questions and needs. With publishers, wholesalers and other vendors, “We are advocating for grace periods, extended dating, credits for returns in transit, free shipping for members, free shipping for customers, additional discount, automatic call tags, the removal of caps on returns, virtual author events, signed stock, and other ideas. Many publishers may be offering support on a case-by-case basis and we strongly encourage stores to contact their publishing reps with their individual requests. ABA is very grateful to all of the publishers who are supporting member stores in various ways right now.” They also urge booksellers to “call your landlord and ask for rent relief.”
The ABA is also collecting important information about relief efforts from local governments for small businesses. In New York City, for example, “businesses with fewer than 100 employees who have seen sales decreases of 25 percent or more will be eligible for zero interest loans of up to $75,000 to help mitigate losses in profit. The City is also offering small businesses with fewer than 5 employees a grant to cover 40% of payroll costs for two months to help retain employees.”
Some publishers are beginning to publicize special offers for independent retailers: Chronicle Books said they will give an additional 5 percent discount and 90-day dating at their standard minimum, which is 10 units for bookstores. It applies to their distribution clients as well. They note, “At this time and for the foreseeable future, we have plenty of inventory and can ship immediately.”