May bookstore sales dropped 59.8% compared to a year ago, according to preliminary estimates released by the U.S. Census Bureau. Sales were $271 million, down from $675 million in May 2019.

Reflecting the unprecedented pressure the pandemic has put on all bricks-and-mortar stores, the Census Bureau posted an unusual note that read: "Due to recent events surrounding COVID-19, many businesses are operating on a limited capacity or have ceased operations completely. The Census Bureau has monitored response and data quality and determined estimates in this release meet publication standards."

Indeed, the Bureau already revised its sales figure for April 2020, lowering it from $219 million to an even worse $163 million. March sales remained at $392 million. As bad as May bookstore sales were, they do represent a 66% increase over sales in April, and reflect the very gradual reopening of bookstores.

Bookstore sales performed much worse than the entire retail sector, which includes segments in which stores were not forced to close. May sales were down 7.3% overall compared to a year ago.

For the first five months of 2020, bookstore sales were down 32%, falling from $3.47 billion to $2.35 billion. Total retail sales were off 4.7% in the January to May period.