Harvard Business School professor Ryan Raffaelli describes the unique value that independent booksellers provide to local economies in this way: “It’s about community, it’s about curation and it’s about convenience.” Author of a working paper titled, “Reinventing Retail: The Novel Resurgence of Independent Bookstores,” Raffaelli argues that in focusing on the “Three Cs” of community, curation, and convenience, independent booksellers have regained their footing in the face of competition from big chains and Amazon and enjoyed a resurgence in recent years.
Raffaelli’s paper describes various ways independent booksellers have connected community members with literary works, authors and educational programs. Sponsoring programs like “Small Business Saturday” and “shop local” movements, independent book stores are often considered at the heart of a community. But how do local businesses leverage their strengths in support of the community in the face of a public health order requiring substantial “social distancing”?
While the seven-county “shelter in place” order is in effect, local booksellers report that they’re not able to maintain in-store operations, but that they’ll do their best to help customers online and by phone, and with curated suggestions for new reading.
With in-store sales on hiatus for three weeks, local bookstores will have to supply customer needs primarily via online orders and requests. Following the issuance of the shelter in place order, most booksellers were still figuring out their parameters of their new, hopefully temporary, business models. To what extent can they manage phone orders, for example, or what kind of delivery deals can they make? Readers can check in with bookstore websites and social media accounts like Twitter to find out the most current deals. Local booksellers encourage local readers to reach out online or phone message during the shelter in place order.
Doris Moskowitz of Moe’s Books, 510-849-2087, MoesBooks.com (@MoesBooks), said she has 30,000 volumes in the store’s Oakland warehouse, ready for purchase. Online sales accounts for roughly 20 percent of the store’s business. “For the next few weeks, that’ll be where our business comes from.”
“Tove Jansson’s The Summer Book is simply amazing during trying times,” said Brad Johnson of East Bay Booksellers in Oakland, 510-653-9965, EBBooksellers.com (@EB_Booksellers). “Jansson soberly, and free of saccharine, reflects on love, life, loss, and so much in-between. It is truly magnificent.” Also recommending the poetry collection Mary, Rack, & Honey, by Mary Ruefle, Johnson noted, “Poetry is important at times like this, because emergencies test our language in ways that make us feel diminished. Mary Ruefle seizes language back from its flattening by circumstance.”
Saroyya Carr of University Press Books, 510-548-0585, UniversityPressBooks.com (@UPBBerkeley), and staff recommended a handful of books to be enjoyed while stuck in the house, ranging from The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates to The Road by Cormac McCarthy.
At Great Good Place for Books in Montclair Village, 510-339-8210, GGPBooks.com (@GreatGoodPlace), Kathleen Caldwell suggested readers looking for recommendations get in touch over the next few weeks. “They can call or send e-mail. That’s what we do.”
Marion Abbott, co-owner of Mrs. Dalloway’s, 510-704-8222, MrsDalloways.com (@MrsDsBooks) in Berkeley, said, “My general recommendation would be to step back from the hysteria, reduce news consumption while remaining aware of new developments, take advantage of this time away from work to hunker down and engage with family: reading books together and playing games.”
As noted by Blanche Richardson of Marcus Books, 510-652-2344, Facebook.com/marcus.books in Oakland said, “I’m hoping (readers) will use their local independent bookstore, rather than Amazon.”