Nearly one year after wildfires devastated communities in Northern California, bookstores have largely recovered. Affected booksellers attributed some of the recovery to loyal customers and community support, but they also cited the key role played by the Book Industry Charitable Foundation (Binc).
“The great news from 2017 is that the California stores that received assistance have all remained open,” said Binc executive director Pamela French. The Ann Arbor, Mich.–based nonprofit aids booksellers around the country in times of need, but the foundation faced what it called “unprecedented” demand last year due to wildfires, floods, and mudslides. In 2017, the foundation distributed more than $234,000 to support 94 booksellers and booksellers’ families in need—more than Binc had distributed the two previous years combined.
Readers’ Books in Sonoma, Calif., was one of those recipients after the Nuns Fire swept through Sonoma and Napa counties in October, burning more than 56,000 acres and damaging approximately 1,000 buildings. Though the bookstore was unharmed by the fire, evacuations and closures sent sales crashing down 17% for the month compared to the previous year. All six employees lost hours at work and had their lives disrupted by evacuations (or the looming threat that they would be forced to evacuate at a moment’s notice).
Binc gave Readers’ Books cofounder Andy Weinberger $10,000 to cover the bookstore’s unexpected bills and debts from the fire—bills that would have dogged him for another year. “The other retailers around here don’t have anything like Binc,” Weinberger said. “The clothing store and the jewelry store down the street—they just had to tough it out without anything.”
With that extra support, the bookstore survived the financial blow and is flourishing in 2018. “We’re having a wonderful year,” Weinberger said. “Sales are way up.”
Winona Wagner, a store manager at the Montgomery Village branch of Copperfield’s Books, recounted, in a video that the store made, how Binc helped bookstore employees. In the video, she noted that the bookstore chain was forced to close four stores temporarily during the disaster. “Binc provided support for the stores that suffered,” she said. “When our out-of-work booksellers received only partial compensation from the unemployment department, Binc reimbursed their full loss of wages.”
Napa Bookmine was also crippled by the same wildfire. The disaster took a huge chunk out of the Napa County bookstore’s 2017 earnings. “It was really unfortunate, because October is our busiest month outside of December,” said owner Naomi Chamblin. She added that she found Binc to be “very receptive and very wonderful” during the ordeal, but a donation from an unnamed author kept the bookstore afloat during this difficult time.
Napa Bookmine has made a complete recovery, even raising $3,000 to help local families rebuild their libraries after losing everything in the fires. “We have been holding strong and seeing the same increases that we normally see year to year,” Chamblin said. Other local businesses weren’t so lucky. “Two of my favorite retail shops downtown have closed,” she noted. “The fire had a huge impact on their business.”
The disaster relief needs in 2017 actually exceeded Binc’s annual budget, so the foundation’s board decided to tap Binc’s reserves. “We are incredibly fortunate to have legacy funds from former Borders employees for severe emergencies,” French said. “No bookseller impacted by the disasters had to be turned away.”
Foundation coffers were also bolstered by contributions from eight of the top 10 publishers. The publishing and bookselling community raised an additional $58,000 to help Binc through the year. Thanks to all this support, Binc’s 2017 budget gap was less than $30,000.
New wildfires spooked California earlier this summer as firefighters battled the Holy Fire that burned nearly 24,000 acres in Orange County and the River Fire that burned nearly 49,000 acres in Mendocino. “Fortunately, we have not received any requests for assistance due to natural disasters this summer,” French said, but she reminded booksellers to consult Binc’s Request Assistance page in their hour of need.