In response to the growing number of cases of the new coronavirus in New York State, governor Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency on Saturday, but readers still went to independent bookstores, which reported some of the strongest sales since Christmas. From New York City to Buffalo, booksellers said customers were undeterred thus far by the news that 76 New Yorkers had contracted the virus. By Monday evening the confirmed number of cases had grown to nearly 150.
A reading that was co-sponsored by Talking Leaves Books in Buffalo drew 100 people on Sunday evening. “I don’t think people are in a panic yet,” said assistant manager Alicia Michielli. “We’re making sure that everybody’s got hand sanitizer and we try to remind people to listen to their doctors.”
In the Bronx, LitBar owner Noëlle Santos said in-store sales have been the highest of the season, with customers expressing skepticism about the gravity of the response to the virus. “My theory is that our community is culturally conditioned to be cynical of mainstream media,” said Santos. “We're extra conscious of hygiene these days, but mostly laughing at the craze.”
Sales were steady at the Strand Book Store in Manhattan as well as Brooklyn’s Greenlight Bookstore, where sales were unchanged compared with this time last year. “I figure if our customers are going to hole up inside due to this virus scare, books are going to be on their shopping list, so maybe we’re more inured than some,” said Greenlight co-owner Rebecca Fitting. Greenlight's staff have had preliminary discussions about cutbacks to hours if sales weaken. Still, Fitting said that in, “New Yorker form, our staff is definitely exercising caution, but is also very 'dark humored' about it.”
Books Are Magic, also located in Brooklyn, had brisk weekend sales but a drop in planned attendance for some events scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday. Two authors have canceled story times at the bookstore out of concern for flying.
Across the Hudson River at the newly-opened second location of Little City Books in Hoboken, N.J. café staff are no longer accepting cash. As with other stores, hand sanitizer is out and booksellers are wiping surfaces with disinfectant more regularly. Co-owner Kate Jacobs said sales were close to even with last year and she is still preparing to go forward with the second annual Hoboken Literary Weekend in early April. “It will be very sad if we have to cancel, but that’s life,” said Jacobs.
New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association (NAIBA) executive director Eileen Dengler said she had not received any indication that stores were seeing a decline in sales across the region.
Farther afield, booksellers reported similarly steady sales amit early spring weather, punctuated by a handful of author event cancellations. Author Lucy Knisley canceled her tour due to travel concerns regarding the coronavirus, including an event at Print in Portland, Maine. Other authors are reconsidering their tours. Print co-owner Emily Russo said that sales last weekend were brisk, but that a children’s story time had few attendees on Monday morning.
“We have not seen a hit in terms of store income or foot traffic at present,” said Russo, who noted that no cases of coronavirus have been reported yet in Maine. “But,” she added, “that could happen at any moment.”
This article has been updated with new information.