In the aftermath of shelter-in-place orders in California during the Covid-19 crisis, the Ripped Bodice bookstore in Los Angeles launched a “Build Your Own Care Package” program to stir up online sales this month. The shop has been closed to foot traffic with all events canceled since March 16, but the romance bookseller has already shipped more than 330 packages with a waiting list of over 800 customers.

“I’m packing all by myself,” said Leah Koch, who cofounded the bookstore with her sister, Bea. “The response has been fantastic since the second we launched. We got about 235 orders in the first 48 hours so I closed down the page to make sure I would be able to fill them all. Now we've put it back up, and people give us their email addresses. We send out an order link to a new batch of people every day so I don't get overwhelmed.”

Readers can sign up at this link to join the waitlist, designing a custom care package with books and small gifts like socks, greeting cards, bookmarks, or pins from the store. According to the Koch, romantic comedy is by far the most requested book genre. When customers want the booksellers to choose a book for them, the most popular adjectives for requests are “fun, light, and escapist.”

Last week, Changing Hands Bookstore in Arizona saw the care package program and reached out to the Ripped Bodice about running a similar program. “We have such an amazing industry where people support and learn from each other,” said Changing Hands co-owner Cindy Dach, who launched a Customized Care Package program soon after. In less than a week, her bookstore had 300 orders for care packages—with kids’ care packages outselling orders for grown-up books.

While Changing Hands is closed to the public, staff is working at the bookstore to fill online orders and deliver curbside pickup. The bookstore’s First Draft Book Bar can even fill beer, wine, and latte orders from patrons doing curbside pickup at the Phoenix location. “The care packages are helping morale and helping our community stay connected,” said Dach. “Our store is a massive event store and that model has completely changed. No care package is going to make up for selling 1,000 books at an author event. But we are nimble, and we are going to figure it out,” she said.

"It has been so helpful for us financially,” said Koch about care the packages, encouraging other booksellers to try it. “Be realistic about how many you can pack a day so that people know what to expect about wait times when ordering,” she said. “And stock up on shipping supplies as soon as possible. My current stress dream is that I run out of boxes and have no way to get more.” Koch has also seen community support on the bookstore’s Patreon page, which has added more than 50 patrons since the Covid-19 crisis began.

“Don’t be afraid to ask your community to help,” said Dach, offering advice for other bookstores considering the care package strategy. “People do want to support their local businesses and this is a fun way to do it.”