Despite a “dramatic” increase in sales through and the success of its curbside pickup up program, revenue at Barnes & Noble has “declined in an unprecedented manner” as the company has closed most all of its stores, CEO James Daunt wrote to employees late last week. The plunge in sales has led B&N to furlough store employees with more than six months experience and to lay off staffers with less experience.

The furloughs extended to B&N’s headquarters and included almost all buyers. Daunt told PW that the “skeleton remaining number” will continue to buy new titles “for what we assume will be a reduced publishing schedule.” The buyers are acquiring titles largely to meet the demand for as well as its curbside program, Daunt noted. The only stores that remain open are those where states have not instituted lock down orders.

In his letter to employees, Daunt said that the company still has the full backing of its owner, Elliott Advisors, as well as the support of the publishing industry. That being the case, B&N is undergoing a rapid refurbishing of its stores. The project, Daunt wrote, was originally expected to take 18 months to two years to complete.

The makeover entails moving bookcases and furniture and adding better fixtures. In addition to the physical moves, a core of four to five booksellers per store "will work through all our book categories. We aim, to the best of our abilities, to direct an appropriate allocation of space and the best possible backlist assortment," Daunt wrote. "This is an exercise in bookselling curation that is very long overdue and which we hope will improve dramatically the quality of our bookstores."

Warehouse Employees Mount Protest

While it deals with the shutdown of its stores, B&N also faced a protest from workers at its Monroe, N.J., warehouse on Tuesday afternoon. Approximately 800 employees work at the warehouse, and protesting employees are demanding a two-week closure of the warehouse, paid time off, and full disinfection of the facility during those two weeks. They are also asking for hazard pay, along with better safety protocols and personal protective equipment, and are asking New Jersey government to enforce their demands. The protest was organized by Movimiento Cosecha, Warehouse Workers Standup, and the Laundry, Distribution and Food Service Joint Board (LDFS Union), Workers United, SEIU.

"Workers like me should not have to choose between staying healthy or feeding our families," Elsa Rodriguez, a B&N warehouse employee for the past 15 years, said in a statement. "The company has not shown any real appreciation for their workers. Some of my coworkers are forced to work under unsafe conditions and the rest of us are staying home out of fear without any pay."

The protest came after workers said nine employees had tested positive for Covid-19. In its statement concerning the action, B&N said five workers had tested positive. B&N explained the discrepancy to Vice by saying, “We have had 5 cases confirmed by doctors of employees who work at the warehouse, and the other cases being reported by employees. In each case we have worked with health officials for appropriate response."

B&N’s statement also noted that since the Covid-19 outbreak, it hassubstantially changed our manner of operating, above all to ensure social distancing. Actions we have taken include enhanced cleaning, reduced staffing, marking of distance on floors, and spacing at work stations to keep people at least 6 feet apart.”

B&N added that when it learned of the positive cases, it closed the warehouse to do a thorough cleaning. “We appreciate all the hard work and efforts of our staff, and will continue to listen to their concerns and work with them to make a safe and secure work environment,” the statement concluded.

The employees' protest drew the support of a number of area politicians. "Everyone is entitled to a safe workplace, especially in this time of crisis," New Jersey State Assembly member Daniel Benson said in a statement. "These warehouse employees deserve not only to be kept safe while doing their jobs but also a fair wage, as they help to sustain our economy during these uncertain times. I stand in solidarity with the Barnes & Noble workers in their fight."