Jill Hendrix, owner of Fiction Addiction in Greenville, S.C., took the opportunity of having the coronavirus crisis shut down retailing across the state to move her bookstore into a storefront in the same mall. "The new space is smaller, at 1,000 sq.-ft. instead of 2,000, but better" said Hendrix, who first opened the bookstore in 2001. The size of the new store is important: under South Carolina's guidelines for re-opening retail stores after shutting down to limit the spread of the coronavirus, the number of shoppers allowed into a store at a single time is determined by the square-footage. Hendrix said they determined their number was four.
April 21 was the first day Fiction Addictions re-opened. "We had a handful of customers, mostly people just curious to see the new store, said Lee Hendrix, Jill's husband, who worked the register. "Some were wearing masks, others were not. I chose not to," he said. He added that the store was following social distancing guidelines and he diligently disinfected all hard surfaces, such as the store's door handle, countertop, and credit card reader, after each customer. "We are doing everything we can to maintain the health of our customers and ourselves," said Lee.
The store also offers curbside pickup. "We found that the store's streetfront display windows are a good showcase for titles and sold books and puzzles right out of the window," added Lee.
Jill Hendrix said that her decision to re-open the store was based on the confidence that she and her husband were "relatively young and healthy" — she is 46 years old and her husband is 60 — and the assumption that "everyone would get [the coronavirus] eventually." She added, her concern was "less for my own health, than the health of the store."
For the foreseeable future, Hendrix and her husband are the only two people who will be working in the store. "We have two-part timers who are working from home, doing receiving and updating the website, and I had another high-school student helping out, who won't be returning to work," said Hendrix. "We were able to get $10,900 from the Payroll Protection Program, which will help, but it is unclear if we can use that on the rent on our new space, as we have the same landlord and it is an extension of our previous lease."
South Carolina is a state where the regulations vary county by county and, as in many areas of the country, appear to be fungible. It, along with Georgia and Tennessee, are allowing some businesses, including bookstores, to re-open. Other states, like Texas, are loosening restrictions and will begin once again allowing curbside pick up. Of course, the situation remains fluid.
For her part, Hendrix said she is excited to show off her new store to customers, but for now, she's satisfied just to restart operations. "I put in orders for new books from the Big Five [publishers], so that's a start and we have started using Edelweiss 360 [Above the Treeline's newsletter service] to promote new titles." But, she added, her business was driven in a large part by offering events and she expects to take a huge financial hit this year.
Virtual event programming may help, but will not bring in the same number of customers. Yesterday Fiction Addiction promoted a virtual event with Lee Smith, organized by SIBA, which attracted 11 customers. Four bought tickets, which included the purchase of a book, and seven more joined who were subscribers to Fiction Addiction's Patreon program, which asks for a donation of $12 a month to attend a single online event or workshop.
"All along I said I was going to stay open as long as the government would let me and I would re-open as soon as they would let me," said Hendrix. "I know a lot of people who are staying at home because of their circumstances — maybe they have children who are out of school or a family member to take care of or they feel they just safer at home. I understand and respect that. Everyone has to make their own decisions."