Indie booksellers throughout California are contending with mandatory evacuations, power outages, road closures, and air quality issues as fires continue to rage in the state.
The situation in Northern California for many indie booksellers can only be described as dire, with a number of NCIBA member stores being forced to close their doors--some since Saturday. Other stores are staying open, but only by overcoming huge obstacles in creative ways.
“We have had our power shut down since Saturday,” said Luisa Smith, the Book Passage’s buying director, of the retailer's Corte Madera location. Smith told PW that some in-store events were canceled, while others were moved to the San Francisco store. “[The power] just came back on, but they say they will be turning it off again tomorrow," she explained on Tuesday. "This is true for all the bookstores in Marin, and many in the East Bay.”
A Great Good Place for Books in Oakland responded to almost three days of power outages by both reducing store hours and selling books by candlelight. Owner Kathleen Caldwell described Sunday at the store as "a party,” with people bringing wine to sip while browsing. Although the store's booksellers were able to ring up credit card sales using their iPhones, overall sales were down 65% on Sunday, and about 80% on Saturday and Monday.
“I’ve got to roll with it,” Caldwell said. “It sucks, but I have the world’s best customers."
NCIBA’s executive director, Calvin Crosby, put the current blaze into perspective, saying that "it’s better than a few years ago, when we were evacuated for two weeks during trade show season.” He estimated that roughly 20 bookstores have been affected by the Kinkade Fire (which news outlets have estimated, at press time, as covering over 70,000 acres in Sonoma County).
Crosby anticipates that the Kincade Fire, so soon after the 2017 wildfires that tore through Sonoma and Napa Counties, will have a long-term impact upon the region, as “it puts fear into the tourists” who were just starting to return to the area. Additionally, he said, every day that an indie bookstores closes increases the threat to their customer base posed by online retailers.
While Los Angeles has also been contending with the blaze, as the Getty Fire has forced some 40,000 people from their homes, the situation for booksellers in the immediate area is less dire than for those in Northern California.
Most of the Westside L.A. stores contacted on Tuesday were still open for business, including Children’s Book World on Pico Blvd. Store director Sharon Hearn told PW that, because a number of local schools have closed, parents have been coming in during the day with their children. Nonetheless, a number of customers live in the mandatory evacuation zone, so there is, Hearn noted, “collateral damage” to the store due to the impact upon its community. Hearn added that the most pressing issue right now is the poor air quality.
Santa Monica's Diesel: A Bookstore, which is located about a mile away from the evacuation zone, is also currently open. Co-owner John Evans, who is in San Diego preparing for Thursday's soft opening of the new Diesel location in Del Mar, said he was extremely relieved the Santa Monica outlet has not been more gravely affected by the fires. He also said he's committed to the store remaining open during times like these.
“We see ourselves as a sanctuary," he said. "We like to stay open, even when it’s challenging, because we are an anchor for the community.”
The Book Industry Charitable Foundation (Binc) reported that, as of this writing, three booksellers affected by the wildfires have been provided with funds. Another 12 have contacted the organization for assistance.
“We know that at least 100 booksellers have been evacuated,” Binc executive director Pamela French told PW. But, having dealt with the 2017 wildfires that tore through the region, French expects these numbers to increase. “As 2017 showed us, the requests are just beginning and will continue for about the next two weeks."