Local Indie Bookstores Are Facing A 'Daily Fight' Against The Pandemic

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Local Indie Bookstores Are Facing A 'Daily Fight' Against The Pandemic
Newsy spoke to three independent bookstores across the country to learn more about how the pandemic has affected their business.

For four years, Gabriella Crivilare has kept Prairie Fox Books, her privately owned bookstore in Ottawa, Illinois, alive and well. 

"It's already a daily fight to succeed as an independent bookstore, let alone when customers can't come in," said Crivilare.

Stores like Politics and Prose in D.C. and The Last Bookstore in L.A. have outlived big book megastores, like Barnes & Noble. But now they face another big threat: COVID-19. 

"Many bookstores have seen huge initial rushes of support, but we don't know how long we're going to be in this situation," said Liz Hottel, Director of Events for Politics and Pros.

Bookstores are seeing decreases in sales and canceled in-person events.

 "It was kind of a trickle and then a flood," said Hottel.

"It was just like a drop off a cliff. Immediately, our sales plummeted and we had to close." said Josh Spencer, owner of The Last Bookstore 

Businesses like The Last Bookstore and the Strand Book Store in New York City have had to furlough several of their staff members in order to survive.

Those still working are pivoting to online events, curbside pickup and subscriptions to stay afloat. 

 "I feel like that's all we do now is we pivot, right? … We've been continuing to fill orders in the store, both through distributors and directly through store stock," said Hottel.

At her Illinois store, Crivilare said, "We really dove in kind of headfirst on curbside pickup and delivery pretty early on. … On a daily basis, it can fluctuate. Like for instance, today, I only had two sales. But yesterday, there were so many." 

In Southern California, Spencer said, "My wife came up with an idea to have curated book bundles, which basically people send us their preferences and then our booksellers will curate a stack of books for them. And that took off like a rocket."

Beyond shifting business strategies, many indie bookstores are also persevering because of support from their local communities. 

In just five days, The Book Cellar in Chicago raised over $50,000 in donations to stay in business. And in April, actress Reese Witherspoon and author James Patterson partnered with bookseller organizations to promote the "#SaveIndieBookstores" campaign. Patterson personally donated $500,000. 

Efforts like this help keep bookstores in business now. But as the pandemic and shelter-in-place orders go on, booksellers stress that continued support is still needed. 

"It's doing online orders, going to our events, and ordering the books from the authors, buying gift cards," said Hottel.

 "Just keep choosing your neighbors," said Crivilare.