Superstorm Sandy disrupted businesses across the northern Atlantic coast when it stuck October 29, and its impact is expected to be felt for months. The extent of Sandy’s immediate impact on book sales can be seen in the steep drop in sales during the week ended November 4 at outlets tracked by Nielsen BookScan. In a week when overall unit sales fell 4% compared to the previous week, sales in the Middle Atlantic states dropped 20%.
The three states that make up the Middle Atlantic region—New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania—were the states hardest hit by Sandy, and the two largest metropolitan areas in those states, New York City and Philadelphia, had big declines in sales. In BookScan’s New York coverage, which includes the five boroughs, Long Island, parts of New Jersey and Pennsylvania as well as the northern suburbs, sales dropped 32% to 517,000 units. Philadelphia fared a little better, but sales there (which includes parts of New Jersey) fell 17% (see map).
Most stores in New York City, Long Island, and the Jersey shore were closed for parts of October 29 and 30 when Sandy knocked out power, flooded low-lying areas, and disrupted travel. Individual stores, however, depending on their location quickly reopened while others may never get back to business. St. Mark’s Books in lower Manhattan was closed October 28 through November 2, and business was slowly picking up last week. “The city seems to me to still be somewhat traumatized,” said the store’s Terry McCoy, who was hoping things would return to more normal levels over the weekend. Gauging the full extent of the damage to bookstores in the Middle Atlantic region was complicated by the fact that the executive director of the New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association, Eileen Dengler, still had no power at the end of last week, making it difficult for her to contact members.
One of the harder hit stores was powerHouse Arena, which suffered $50,000 worth of damages to its Dumbo, Brooklyn, store. The store is planning a fund-raiser for November 17 featuring panels, readings, and author signings with Jonathan Franzen, Jennifer Egan, Paul Auster, and Joseph O’Neill among those set to appear. Much more fortunate was Brooklyn neighbor Greenlight Bookstore, which suffered no damage or power loss because of the storm. Since many neighborhood residents were stuck at home for several days, Greenlight had a good week of sales, and co-owners Rebecca Fitting and Jessica Stockton-Bagnulo decided to donate 10% of the week’s proceeds to two Sandy relief funds, a sum that amounted to $4,000.