As Americans settle in for what may be a months-long national shutdown in response to the new coronavirus pandemic, several indies have launched, with varying degrees of success, GoFundMe campaigns designed to help them pay bills and their employees. As several of these booksellers noted in their respective GoFundMe appeals, while many indies have been deluged with online orders these past weeks, it’s not enough to sustain a business model based on walk-in traffic.
Bookstore owner Nina Barrett launched the Bookends and Beginnings GoFundMe campaign Saturday for her six-year-old bookstore in Evanston, Ill. She explained that although she “really hates the idea of asking for donations, it's just a Wild, Wild West out there and I am trying every strategy I can think of to put us in a stronger position to ride this out.” While Bookends and Beginnings has had a spike in online orders recently, it is not bringing in enough for Barrett to continue paying her three full-time employees.
In a frank letter to potential donors, Barrett wrote, “without walk-in business, we simply cannot make enough money to pay our bills. Our rent, our inventory, our software licenses and other monthly expenses aren't going away, and we are committed to keeping our staff employed; right now, from their homes, they are making it possible for us to keep shipping you books from our warehouse.”
Bookends and Beginning’s campaign seeks to raise $100,000 and plans on donating 10% of that to Binc; it raised almost $15,000 from more than 200 donors within the first 48 hours of the campaign; it has raised to date $16,500.
About 20 miles south of Bookends and Beginnings, the Seminary Co-op bookstores in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood also launched a GoFundMe campaign this past weekend through which it hopes to raise $250,000.
The nearly 60-year-old nonprofit’s business model relies on, director Jeff Deutsch wrote in a letter that was as frank as Barrett’s, “seasonal sales spikes associated with author events, course book purchases, and holiday shopping, as well as the sales from daily browsing.” While online orders, he added, have been “tremendously helpful and heartening,” it isn’t bringing in enough revenue “to ensure we can meet our immediate expenses, including payroll and publisher bills.”
As of Tuesday morning, Seminary Co-op has raised $86,500 from 1,000 donors.
As of April 8, Seminary Co-op has raised more than $132,000 from 1,500 donors.
Posman Books launched its GoFundMe campaign on March 18, after its New York City and Atlanta stores were closed two days previously. Entitled “Posman Books Bookseller Support Fund,” the GoFundMe page states that all of Posman’s frontline booksellers have been laid off and that any funds raised will go to help them. Posman’s campaign has generated to date $2,370 of a $4,000 goal from 27 donors.
This Newburyport, Mass.children's bookstore launched a GoFundMe campaign five days ago. Like the general bookstores that have launched such campaigns, owner Susan Little explained in her appeal that Jabberwocky, which is marking its 48th year in business, is not pulling in enough via online sales to pay rent and make payroll. “We will be exploring the federal grants but it is unclear how soon that money can be accessed and how much,” Little writes, “So, like so many small business owners who are facing similar situations, we are using this fundraising campaign as an additional effort to support the store.”
The store has to date raised almost half ($34,350) of its $75,000 goal, with 481 donors.
I Am books, in Boston’s North End neighborhood, an indie specializing in Italian and Italian-American literature may have been, on March 12, the first indie to launch a GoFundMe campaign in response to the coronavirus. The store shut its doors that same day, 11 days before Boston’s mayor issued a stay-at-home advisory on March 23. In a letter that sounds prescient now, owner Nicola Orichula wrote, “Please do not take this as an excess of fear on our part, or a panic-driven decision. The majority of our staff is Italian (as am I), and we all have family and friends in Italy. Our beautiful country is being ravaged by the coronavirus. The Italian government’s decision to lock down the country is not the result of mass hysteria, but the inevitable outcome necessary to contain the threat of this new and harmful virus.”
Disclosing that January and February are I Am’s slowest months, that business typically starts to pick up in March, and peaks in summer due to tourist traffic, Orichula requested that donors help the bookstore get through the spring. Its initial goal of $5,000 to pay one month’s rent and employees with a projected re-opening on March 27 was subsequently raised to $10,000 as the store remains closed. I Am has, to date, raised close to $8,500 from 160 donors.
PW Bookstore of the Year 2019 winner Literati Books in Ann Arbor, Mich. once again has demonstrated that in the seven years since Mike Gustafson and Hilary Gustafson moved there from New York City and opened their bookstore, it has become a beloved hub of book sales and book-related activity. Last week, Mike wrote that even with the couple’s emergency life savings that they would dip into if it came to that, Literati was “running out of cash to pay our rent, utilities, payroll, liabilities and publishers, and make sure we have enough cash on-hand to re-open once we make it through.”
“Our entire business plan is based around in-store purchasing,” Mike wrote, “Being open to foot traffic, open to the public browsing, and events. Those revenue streams are gone.”
Gustafson’s words resonated: Literati met its $100,000 goal within 48 hours. To date, it has raised $114,000 through GoFundMe from almost 2,000 donors. In a heart-felt follow-up letter dated March 25, Mike promised that the funds raised “will be used right now to keep people employed, pay our liabilities, and help enable us to move forward. Hilary and I are not seeing a dime of any of this. This is all to pay our liabilities now and going forward: Rent, bills, payroll.”
4/2/2020 Update: More Indies Conducting GoFundMe Campaigns
Owner Annie Philbrick is the latest indie bookseller to launch a GoFundMe campaign, writing that two weeks ago that she furloughed over 30 staff at two stores, one in Mystic, Conn. and the other in Westerly, R.I. Four have been kept on to manage online orders and social media, and the bookkeeper. "They are working their tails off to keep books in your hands and keep us going despite our doors being locked. Whatever funds are raised will go to our payroll and utilities, liabilities, and rent to hopefully carry us through until we are able to fully reopen our doors." The store has in its first 24 hours raised $18,000 of its $100,000 goal from 219 donors.
The nine year old Ithaca, N.Y. cooperative’s appeal states, “With our storefront closed, we’ve had to lay off everyone except general manager Lisa Swayze and our part-time bookkeeper. We are still responsible for rent, payroll, bills from publishers for the books on the shelves, and loan payments. We have absolutely no padding to pay for the next few months. The question is stark: do you want Buffalo Street Books to be here when the crisis has passed?” Almost $10,000 of its $25,000 goal has been raised to date from 130 donors.
Owner Lacy Simons states, “Donations to this campaign will flow directly back into the business in the form of meeting our payroll commitments, maintaining our website to guarantee access to online ordering, utilities costs, bill payments, and creating a pool to be able to hire back staff members on leave as soon we're able to. We want to be there on the other side of this tunnel, and we want you there with us." The Rockland, Me. store has exceeded its $15,000 goal by raising $16,500 from 225 donors.
Joan Grenier, whose late father opened Odyssey in South Hadley, Mass. in 1963 and operated it until his late 70s explains that May is usually the store’s best sales month, due to it being Mt. Holyoke College’s official bookstore. But graduation is cancelled as are ceremonies at the other colleges in the area that usually draw in crowds of customers. Grenier intends to apply for grants to help with payroll, rent, and utilities, but fears that it wil be too little and too late with the cash flow crisis already escalating. More than $9,000 of its $60,000 goal has been raised from 128 donors.
The fundraiser, explains owner Ally Fitzpatrick, is to cover payroll, rent, and fixed costs during the shut down for the store, which opened in Alexandria, Va. approximately 18 months ago. Old Town has raised almost $8,000 to date of its $75,000 goal from 121 donors.
The store, which serves Philadelphia's multicultural Germantown and Mt. Airy neighborhoods with books and food, originally set a goal of $25,000 to cover payroll and bills through March, but with the extension of the stay-at-home restrictions in Pennsylvania, the store’s goal is now $50,000. It has raised $21, 605 to date from 425 donors.
Owner Patricia Boyer writes of the Ridgewood, N.J. store, “In the 35 years since we opened, we have worked hard to be the bookstore we are today. A lively bookstore, with top-notch events with the world's best authors. Over the years, we have proudly created jobs, paid our fair share of taxes, given back to nonprofits and schools, and built a community. But now we are faced with Covid-19 and the fact that we are closed to the public, we need your help to pay our rent, utilities, payroll, liabilities and publishers." Almost $11,000 has been raised of the $25,000 goal from 166 donors.
Allison Krzanowski, co owner with her husband Matthew, states of the Westbrook, Me. bookstore/cafe, "Our goal amount covers paying our employees their last paycheck before unemployment kicks in, paying April rent and utilities, and our April 5th payment of our small business loan. We expect that we will be paying May rent with little to no income in April as well. We know there are a lot of people in need right now. But if you feel like chipping in the $5 you would have spent on a latte this week or the $10 you would have spent on lunch, we will be forever grateful." To date, $3,600 has been raised of the $8,400 goal from 100 donors.
Alexander Schneider and Christina Rosso-Schneider, the husband-and-wife team who opened the store little more than a year ago in South Philadelphia’s East Passyunk neighborhood need to pay rent on the store, as well as meet basic living and work expenses. They have raised to date $1,220 of their $2,000 goal with 33 donors.
The Evanston, Ill. children’s indie needs to pay its employees and to cover such basic expenses as rent and utilities until the store is able to open its doors to the public again. It has raised almost $6,000 of its $25,000 goal from 88 donors.
The store in Lafayette, Ind. launched a sustainability GoFundMe campaign asking for just enough to receive a matching grant from Quickbooks and their partners. It has raised.$560 of its $1000 goal from 13 donors.
The 21-year-old store, billed as the last indie in Santa Monica, Calif. sells new and used books and records. Its owner and sole employee, 66-year-old Rocco Ingala has raised just over $2,000 of of his $60,000 goal from 42 donors.
The small store in San Francisco's Mission District has raised $3,400 from 77 donors of its $50,000 goal.
Ann Woodbeck, who assumed ownership with her husband, Woody, of this 25-year-old suburban Minneapolis bookstore a few months ago, is the latest bookseller to launch a GodFundMe campaign. Excelsior Bay is hoping to weather the pandemic crisis, pay employees and other bills, and be able to reopen when possible by raising $20,000. It has raised in the two days since launching its campaign almost $9,000 from 125 donors.
Kate Layte, the owner of the five-year-old Boston, Mass. store says that while the "problems of the world see so much larger" than her and her bookshop, she believes that books "are vital for a community and world at large to function." She's asking donors to pitch in to help her raise $60,000 to help her keep the store open. To date, Papercuts has raised more than $9,000 from 118 donors.
The Provincetown, Mass. indie has raised just over $2,000 of its $50,000 goal from 17 donors. It is offering incentives for donors at various levels of donations.
Owner Melissa Eisenmeier hopes to raise $7,500 to pay bills, including rent, utlities, as well as cat food, litter, and well-kitty check-ups for the store's cat, Stan Lee. So far, $50 has been raised.
The venerable San Francisco literary icon founded by Lawrence Ferlinghetti in 1953 both sent shock waves throughout the industry and raised more than $450,000 from 1,500 donors in a weekend after launching a campaign with the blunt headline "Keep City Lights Alive," with a goal of $300,000. PW spoke with fundraiser organizer Elaine Katzenberger of City Lights about the fundraiser and how difficult it is to maintain sustainability in a high-rent city, as well as succession issues.
The three Chicagoland bookstores, founded in 1875 and co-owned by former ABA board president Becky Anderson, recently launched its campaign and has raised more than $25,000 of its $100,000 goal, with almost 450 donors.
The Bradford, Vt. indie's campaign discloses that the owner of the store has a compromised immune system, and cannot keep the store open if she wanted to. The campaign's organizer, Andrew Phillips is hoping to raise $7,500; to date, just over $2,000 has been raised.
This story will be updated as PW learns of other bookstores launching GoFundMe campaigns.