The Strand Book Store confirmed on Sunday that 188 employees, the majority of the bookstore’s staff, have been let go in the wake of the Covid-19 outbreak in the United States and New York City, currently the epicenter of the epidemic. The news comes just hours before New York State governor Andrew Cuomo's PAUSE executive order goes into effect mandating that all non-essential businesses close.
“This is the first time in our history that we have had to have a layoff,” owner Nancy Bass Wyden Bass Wyden wrote in a statement. Employees will receive a week of pay in addition to payment for any vacation time they have accrued. “We are also working with our union and our providers to extend health insurance as long as possible,” Wyden added.
The 93-year-old store is a Manhattan mainstay, boasting "18 million miles" of books in its main location as well as a satellite location in Times Square. The Broadway storefront, just south of New York's Union Square, was designated a New York City Historic Landmark last year, and in early February, the store announced plans to open an additional location on the Upper West Side, taking over a space formerly occupied by Book Culture.
At present, all operations for the store are at a standstill. Bass Wyden wrote that she has requested approval from Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office for the store to be designated an essential business so that the remaining employees can process and fulfill online orders.
“The Strand has survived catastrophes, from the Great Depression to 9/11, and weathered the schisms in the book industry that many predicted would put us out of business,” wrote Bass Wyden. “After a century of beating the odds, we won’t give up now.”
In addition, Books & Books in Miami has closed its five bookstores and furloughed 80 employees. Mitchell Kaplan, president of the chain, said the store will continue to fulfill online orders, and as much revenue as possible from sales will go to support paying for health insurance for employees for "as long as possible." It is, he said, "a nightmare, but we are doing the best we can to support our employees and our community in this time of crisis."
The Strand and Books and Books are only the latest of a number of major independent booksellers to lay off dozens, if not hundreds, of workers in response to the pandemic. New York's McNally Jackson, Washington, D.C.'s Busboys and Poets, Portland, Ore.'s Powell's, Denver's Tattered Cover, and New York and Atlanta's Posman's have all made major layoffs over the past week.