Three prominent bookstores, McNally Jackson in New York City, Powell's Books in Portland, Ore., and Busboys and Poets in Washington D.C., have together laid off more than 600 employees as a result of the coronavirus crisis.
Late yesterday afternoon, social media lit up with the news that some 80 members of staff of McNally Jackson Books in New York City had been let go, including a majority of those who had been with the company four years or less or worked part-time. The employees who have been let go will be given a week of pay, and their health benefits will be sustained for the time being.
On Twitter, the store management posted that the layoffs were a reaction to the stores "facing down a massive, unprecedented loss in revenue." The post said: "These layoffs are temporary. We intend to hire back our employees as soon as we can." In the meantime, the staff have asked for support from the public in the form of gift cards and other donations.
McNally Jackson has six New York City locations, including four bookstores and two Goods for the Study stationery stores. Its newest bookstore, at City Point in Brooklyn, held its grand opening just two weeks ago. The stores are closed to customers, but are continuing to process online orders and phone orders for delivery. In December, McNally employees joined the the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union (RWDSU).
With seven locations in the Washington, D.C., area, Busboys and Poets employed booksellers, waiters, and a management team for its combined restaurant-bookstore venues. DCist reported Tuesday that hundreds of employees had been laid off. In a post on Twitter, founder and owner Andy Shallal wrote: "Sh*t’s getting real. Doing carry out and online only at this point...Had to do layoffs. Trying to stay buoyant and hoping this won’t last."
At Powell's Books in Portland, approximately 340 of the store's 400 employees have been laid off, according to the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, Local 5, which has represented the employees since 1999. The company's five bookstores were closed on Sunday.
In a message to employees, Powell's human resources director Michelle Afroso wrote: “Given the urgent need to close all of our locations due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the inability to maintain recommended social distance, coupled with the rapid, significant downturn in sales in the recent weeks and days, Powell's needs to take to immediate steps to scale back the company," according to The Oregonian.
There was no promise that the booksellers would be hired back. "If sales continue to decrease in the future, we will need to take further action. We will try to avoid additional layoffs by reducing the size of the company over time through a hiring freeze and attrition," Afroso wrote.
The union expressed "disappointment" that management took the move, writing: "The loss of profit is nothing compared to the lifelong trauma such a loss of income and benefits are likely to have for individuals." It has set up a Coronavirus Worker Relief Fund online for donations.
This article has been updated to reflect new information.