This past Saturday, when Books of Wonder opened the doors to its new storefront at 42 West 17th Street in Manhattan, it was the start of a new chapter and the store’s sixth downtown location in 40 years. “Foot traffic was good,” said owner Peter Glassman.
The move from the store’s previous location, a block away on 18th Street, was announced just last month. “Our lease ran out on our previous location on December 31st last year and we were lucky enough to get an extension,” said Glassman. “We’d been looking at other locations when Covid hit, so we stayed put. When the landlord found a new tenant for our old space, we had to move and fortunately we got this one.”
Movers came last week and took four days to shift everything to the new location. Shelves and sections were numbered and books were loaded into boxes that were labeled with corresponding numbers, making unpacking easy. “As of Monday, we have about 80% of stock on the floor,” Glassman said. The new tenant at the former location wanted a bare space, so Glassman was also able to transfer the store’s lights. Upgrades to the new space include $60,000 in new fixtures, as well as a custom-made rolling library ladder that will be delivered shortly.
The sales floor space is approximately the same size as the previous store, though there is less behind-the-scenes space for storage. Shelving for overstock has been added above the shelves and the old and rare books section, which takes up the back wall, is more visible and accessible.
One advantage Books of Wonder had in moving into a new space in the age of Covid stems from the fact it was a children’s store. “We always designed our stores with wide aisles, usually at least five feet wide, to accommodate strollers. So, in this age of social distancing people are comfortable,” Glassman said.
The lease for the 17th Street location is for only three years. “Landlords don’t want to get into long-term leases at the current rate that people can pay,” said Glassman. “Maybe in a few years we will be able to pay higher rent, or we’ll close it down. That is where we are right now. The rent on 17th Street is half of what we were paying on 18th Street, which is a space we were supposed to split with a tenant.”
Books of Wonder has a second location on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, and Glassman reported the future of that location is uncertain as he is at an impasse with the landlord over rent.
As for sales, Glassman was candid. “Without events, we are hurting. We would do three to four events a week, as well as school book fairs, private events, and book launches. That represented a lot of sales for us.”
Though the stores are now open, income at the stores is down 60% for the year at both locations so far for the fiscal year, which ends June 1, 2021. Online sales have made up for some of the losses and are up 240%. “We relaunched our website last year and people can filter a search for books by age, which is something customers really like.” The store also shifted to virtual events, which he said has helped sell more books. “We had an event with Eva Chen, who is local, and sold 1,000 copies of Roxy the Last Unisaurus Rex, which she came in and personalized. And we did an event with Rick Riordan and sold 1,500 of The Tower of Nero.”
Looking ahead, Glassman is optimistic that sales will pick up. “New York City has a very low rate of [Covid-19] infection and everyone is being very respectful of other people. We’ve never had a problem with someone trying to come into the store without wearing a mask.” As for the move, Glassman says it’s now business as usual. “The minute we opened the doors, people started coming in. And they kept coming on Sunday and Monday. Of course, this is an unusual week, so let’s see if they keep coming in on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday….”