Some say bookselling is a recession-proof business. It also requires a great deal of optimism. The past six months of pandemic have put an inordinate amount of pressure on bricks-and-mortar stores, with many forced to linger in lockdowns and suffer the loss of customers and their connection to their communities. Some have shut down permanently or turned to crowdfunding for operating capital to tide them over.
But it’s not all bad news, as numerous booksellers—veterans and newbies alike—have continued to pursue their dreams of owning their own stores and opened in the midst of this crisis. Here we highlight a sampling of these new stores, from a Sunday on-the-street popup in New York City run by book industry veterans to a Chicago store that was open for only three days before temporarily closing to customers. At PW, we too are optimistic that bookstores will survive, customers will return, and local book communities will persist and thrive. In support of that sentiment, we’ll continue to highlight these and other new booksellers in the weeks and months to come.
“I’ve been dreaming of opening this business for most of my adult life and never expected it to happen during such crazy times. The human suffering and inequity we’re witnessing in 2020 underline for me that we need community gathering places where people can listen and learn from each other.”— Jen Caspar, owner, Village Well Books & Coffee, Culver City, Calif. The store opened on June 10.
“Madison Street Books is what hatched when two very different readers and booksellers decided to join forces to create the perfect bookstore. We are loaded with fiction from Jane Austen to Kelly Link, a wonderful kid’s section, and all the true crime you can stomach. If you look closely you will find nonfiction as well. Who knew it would be Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride?”— Mary Mollman , owner, Madison Street Books, Chicago, with fellow Madison Street booksellers Wayne Giacolone (l.) and Javier Ramirez (r.). The store opened on March 14 and closed on March 16. It reopened in late June, limiting the number of people inside to 10 at any given time.
“Opening the bookstore was such a dream, and there was no turning back by the time the virus struck. I was blown away by the local support as customers told me they were determined to help the store get through this and still be in business on the other side. It seems like many people turned to reading for comfort and solace through the lockdown period. It feels wonderful to be to open again and meeting my customers’ face-to-face, albeit masked and through plexiglass!”— Karen-Anne Pagano, owner, Village Bookseller, Mount Pleasant, S.C. The store opened on March 21.
“We never imagined when we opened our store a month ago that we would be facing a natural disaster along with a pandemic. It was tough enough figuring out how to provide a safe browsing space for our customers, and then the derecho hit, damaging 90% of properties in Marion. Each day presents a new challenge to get books into the hands of readers. But books are in our blood, and we are proud of our community for their support of the bookstore this past month. We look forward to returning that support in the coming months as recovery efforts begin.”—Terri Leblanc, co-owner, Swamp Fox Bookstore, Marion, Iowa. Leblanc and fellow co-owners Amanda Zhorne and Ursla Lamphear opened the store on July 11.
“We had planned to open Sleepless in Laguna on March 21, but the Covid-19 closures delayed those plans. Initially we specialized in romance books, but we decided to retool into a more traditional bookstore carrying all genres. We are located in a beach town that’s usually very popular with tourists, but with them missing all summer long, the critical foot traffic numbers are disappointing, to say the least. But we already have a steady group of return customers. Some are forgoing the big online booksellers in favor of us, even if our prices are slightly higher.”— Lisa Ann Reed, owner of Sleepless in Laguna, Laguna Beach, Calif., with partner and co-owner Joe Anzenberger. The store opened on May 10.
“Being confined by coronavirus to our corner of the city opened the neighborhood up to us in new ways. We wanted to reach out to our neighbors, and because of who we are individually and collectively, it was natural that whateverwe could contribute to the neighborhood would be based in books and that the community we could muster would be a community of readers. Jackson Heights has so much to offer— great food, great people, beautiful architecture. And it’s a diverse neighborhood full of activists, academics, writers, and readers, and plenty of us book industry folks. There are great bookshops in Queens, but they’re all quite a haul from our neighborhood, which is such a world unto itself. A bookstore and community space is needed, and would be cherished, as we’ve heard from our neighbors on our initial outings selling books outdoors.”—Natasha Gilmore and Jeff Waxman, founders, Open Borders Books in Jackson Heights, Queens, N.Y. The pop-up bookstore has been selling books on the street every Sunday since July 5.
“From the moment we opened our doors to the moment we closed, the little basement shop had a steady stream of people. During nearly every transaction, they told us how excited they were to see a bookstore in their neighborhood and how happy they were that we offer art supplies, as well. Our goal with this store was to bring books and art, some of our favorite things, to our community, and to experience the level of support that we did on Saturday [August 8] was overwhelming. Sure, opening during a pandemic was risky, but ultimately, we’re glad we took that chance and remain cautiously optimistic about our future.”— Annie Adelman (r.) and Matt Fitzpatrick, co-owners, Bluestocking Social in Evansville, Ind. The store opened on August 8.