While booksellers on the coasts are rushing to deal with the coronavirus, which is most prevalent to date in New York state and in Washington state, for indie booksellers in the middle of the country, it’s business as usual. Thus far, very few people have tested positive for the coronavirus in the Midwest: 19 in Illinois, three in Minnesota, two in Michigan, three in Ohio, one in Kansas, zero in North Dakota.
For the booksellers PW spoke with on Monday and Tuesday, the impact on them was primarily tweaking author events; very few booksellers mentioned sales, although David Enyeart, manager of Next Chapter Booksellers in St. Paul, Minn. noted that the store is experiencing strong sales of the “big” new releases and customers “aren’t voicing a lot of concern.”
“That makes me think that we might have a normal spring,” he said. As for the store’s packed programming schedule, the store’s event coordinator, Riley Davis, reported that there has been only one cancellation so far, an international author who had to return to the United Arab Emirates immediately, out of fear that he may have not be able to return later.
“It was a huge bummer because we had a lot of readers who were excited to see him,” Davis wrote, “but they ultimately understood that there isn't much control any of us have on this type of situation."
Pamela Klinger-Horn, who organizes the Literature Lovers Night Out author events at two bookstores in the Twin Cities, Excelsior Bay Books in Excelsior, and Valley Booksellers in Stillwater, reported that Lisa See and her publicist both contacted Klinger-Horn a few days ago to confirm this evening’s LLNO at Excelsior Bay.
“We have not heard from a single customer that they are planning to avoid the event,” Klinger-Horn said, “I am making the signs per the publisher’s request stating that "due to concerns about the coronavirus, please sanitize as you enter and refrain from handshakes or hugs with the author.” See is pre-signing books to minimize contact with readers, though she will personalize books and take photos with fans.
Klinger-Horn noted that another author scheduled to participate in LLNO, Therese Fowler, expressed concerns on social media about her national tour. In response, Klinger-Horn wrote on her Facebook page: “Minnesota is still safe and we are washing our hands and preparing to welcome you with an elbow bump."
It’s business as usual for Watermark Books in Wichita, Kans., as well. According to owner Sarah Bagby, the only change is “a firm message--beyond washing hands and not touching face--to staff to be mindful of their own health, keep their immune systems strong, get enough sleep, and make sure we keep the store wiped down and do as much as we can to kill germs. I just feel so responsible. And money is so dirty.”
As for events, the store is hosting See and Erik Larsen this week, with 300 reservations for See. Both authors, Bagby said, want to restrict contact with their fans “as much as possible.” Which is fine by most of her customers, she added. “Some just want to make sure they get their books signed." Both authors are pre-signing their books.
Anderson’s Bookshop in Naperville, Ill., reported that it has canceled one author event to date, but other authors who are canceling stops on the West Coast leg of their tours are still planning to come to Chicago. Sadly, Anderson’s bookseller Mary O’Malley told PW on Tuesday, “I just had my first customer buying books to ship to someone who is quarantined.”
As for the regionals, both the Midwest Independent Booksellers Association and the Great Lakes Independent Booksellers Association are planning to go ahead with their spring forums: MIBA is holding its gathering in Bayfield, Wis., on April 5-6; GLIBA’s forum is in Kalamazoo, Mich., on April 16. GLIBA is also hosting a member bookstore owners retreat in Starved Rock State Park in Illinois on April 26-28.
GLIBA executive director Larry Law, who, with his wife, Abraham Associates commission rep Sandra Law, became a parent on February 25, wrote, “We are monitoring the situation closely and as of right now are moving forward with both events. I will be attending both events but Sandra and the baby will be staying home. We are also looking into event cancellation insurance for our future events.”