Half Price Books became the largest U.S. bookstore chain to close its doors as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. The company operates 126 stores in 17 states and employs approximately 3,000 people.
"There are no official layoffs from the company and we are keeping all full and part-time employees," said Kathy Doyle Thomas, chief strategy officer at Half-Price. "We are being very generous with our employees and working with them to make it work. We really value our employees, their creativity and willingness to help us get through this together."
The stores will be closed to customers until March 31, but will continue to allow curbside pick up of books and, in some markets, will make deliveries to people's homes. The company uses its own store inventory to source orders from its website, which necessitates keeping employees working in each store whenever possible.
"If we can withstand Amazon, e-books, and all the other challenges, we can withstand this," Doyle Thomas said. "People really want their books and need their books and don't want to be stuck at home. They want something different in their lives or escape and learn new thing and learn new information."
Doyle Thomas said that the company was doing its best to see this situation as an opportunity to learn and improve as booksellers overall. "We are looking at cutting costs and increasing sales," she said. "As a medium-sized retailer, we are scrappy and coming up with a lot of ideas. Being open to trying new things and pushing new things will make us better." She noted that the company was also looking at ways to buy used books from customers, the "lifeblood" of the company, but it was uncertain, adding: "Over the weekend, a lot of people were selling to us because they were home and doing early spring cleaning."
Doyle Thomas was keen to underscore that it was going to take collaboration among all constituents in the industry for everyone to make it out the other side of the pandemic in the best possible shape. "We have reached out to our vendors and some have been really nice, and some have been not so nice," she said. "My advice is you can be nice now and it will come back to you in the long run. If we care about each other, we can stay in business long term."