Throughout the country, bookstore owners have been faced with a choice: find a way to continue selling books or close business.
Locally, some shops have managed to stay open through online and phone orders. Others have completely closed for the duration of coronavirus business. Each store is facing less revenue.
In Seaside, Beach Books owner Karen Emmerling closed the store in March, slightly ahead of Gov. Kate Brown’s ordered closure of non-essential businesses. She’s kept the business running through online and phone orders. She also has been using the shop’s windows, by showcasing books for passersby and offering appointments for customers to window shop.
“At the time, there still were people in town,” Emmerling said. “That’s how we got the idea of being able to shop in the windows. We put out a variety of kids books, which was moderately successful.”
Emmerling, like others, has been offering delivery to local customers. The book orders have allowed her to keep her staff on payroll at reduced hours.
“Mostly everything now is shipping so we don’t have as much staff in the shop … We’re keeping busy but not nearly to the level we would have anticipated with spring break,” Emmerling said. “We’re down probably 80% of business.”
On top of everything else, Emmerling has been forced to step back from the store because she is in the age group at risk of contracting coronavirus and because her husband has medical conditions that increase his risk of infection.
“Trying to figure out how I can keep everyone paid … I know they need an income to pay their rent so emotionally it’s been really difficult,” she said.
In Manzanita, Cloud & Leaf Bookstore owner Deborah Reed has also taken measures to protect her husband, who has medical conditions. She temporarily laid off her three staff members and is handling phone and email orders on her own.
“I can’t be sure that somebody else won’t bring something in so I’m taking a lot of messages, phone calls and emails primarily from people who live in town,” Reed said. “I take their card information manually. Everything takes very long compared to before.”
Reed said she has applied for grants and small business loans so she could re-employ her staff but hasn’t received any aid.
Like Emmerling, Reed also has been offering free local book deliveries. She also started a fund in her shop where customers can donate money so Reed can donate books to families who otherwise can’t afford to buy books. Like the other shop owners, she’s grateful for the support customers have given during the store closure.
“The generosity that I see when people say ‘I don’t even need books, I just want to support you,’ and the looks of people who buy books after I drop them off, is very satisfying,” Reed said. “With libraries closed and Amazon deprioritizing books, it’s great to be doing something to help during this ordeal.”
In addition to her bookstore responsibilities, Reed has a book that is scheduled to be released this October, “Pale Morning Light with Violet Swan.”
“I’m trying to save the store, other authors’ careers and then I’ve got my own. What does it mean to have a book coming out now?” Reed said. “The focus has been the bookstore, even when I leave the store ... And in the midst of all that, is this looming publication of my own book.”
Reed has two events scheduled this summer to promote her book. So far, neither has been canceled or postponed.
“I feel fortunate that I didn’t have a normal book tour scheduled so I don’t have the stress of that,” Reed said. “I’ve been working 10 times as long for a fraction of the income right now.”
In Astoria, Lucy’s Books owner Lisa Reid has had experiences similar to Emmerling and Reed. Reid has been taking phone orders and giving customers recommendations through Facebook and email.
“It took me about a week to figure out how to do it … These look like services that we’ll continue to do even after we get back open,” Reid said.
Business for Lucy’s has gone down to a few orders a day, Reid said. The decreased business is something she’s noticed throughout town, as many stores are currently closed.
“This is a strange situation for everyone in the city and frankly, in the country. Everybody’s just doing what they can to make the best of it and keep going. I’m looking forward to when we can get back to normal,” Reid said. “At least we can still read in the sunshine.”