In a newsletter delivered to customers yesterday, Emily Powell, the owner of Powell's Books, wrote an update, which was also published on the company's website, implying that the company has no intention of reopening its stores anytime soon. All of Powell's five locations in and around Portland, Ore., have been closed since mid-March, with three locations—the downtown City of Books and the Cedar Hills and Hawthorne stores—offering in-store pickup.
"In a nutshell, we continue to take everything one day at a time," wrote Powell, noting that the company received a PPP loan which has been used to cover "payroll, payroll-related expenses such as healthcare, rent for our smaller stores only"—that is, the stores in Beaverton and Hawthorne, as well as Powell's Home & Garden stores—"and utilities." She said that the chain continues to not pay rent for many of its spaces and added that changes to the PPP loan allowed them flexibility in using the money.
Government records indicate Powell's received a PPP loan of between $2 and $5 million on the promise of retaining 471 jobs. In late March, Powell's was employing approximately 100 employees to fulfill online orders, but it unclear how many employees have been retained or returned to work since then. The union that represents employees, ILWU Local 5, maintains a Covid-19 relief fund page.
"We are grateful for the support of this legislation—without it, Powell’s would already look dramatically different," wrote Powell. "We know that when we have exhausted our loan, we will have to face painful choices."
Powell indicated that as much as she would like to reopen the stores to customers, the threat to health remains a concern. But it is not the only concern. Powell indicated that there are also financial risks, including the expense of "returning people to work, bringing in additional inventory, procuring safety equipment, redesigning store operations—well in advance of opening our doors."
Noting that in-store sales across the country are down, she said: "we cannot take on additional expenses in this dire time without the guarantee of sales that will allow us to pay for those expenses. And so, we find ourselves in the difficult position of having to wait for brick-and-mortar shopping to return, or for some other stroke of luck that might allow us to reopen." She added that, after a burst of online sales in support for the stores since they closed in March, "sales have continued to decline, but we are doing everything we can to reverse that trend and to find ways to keep our operations going."
Powell then went on to address the ways in which company hopes to improve its diversity and inclusion efforts. "Like many businesses, we have also spent the past several months engaged in deep internal introspection within our management team regarding our previous work, or lack thereof, in the fight for racial justice in this country," she wrote. "While we have engaged in this fight over the years, it was never ever nearly enough. We should have done more, and we should have done better. We allowed ourselves to become distracted by making our way through the difficult landscape of independent bookselling."
The company, Powell added, will focus on improving community partnerships, internal education, daily business practices, and hiring.