Canadá/ Aug 17, 2020 /by Dana Gee/ source: https://vancouversun.com
It didn’t take long for the door to be slammed shut on normalcy once COVID-19 took hold four months ago.
One of the ‘normal life’ things that got shelved was the joyful ritual of a good browse through a well-stocked independent bookstore. Thankfully, the independent book stores — those 100-plus that sell new books in B.C. — were not willing to just go dark.
Especially not when it had become so clear that books would be an obvious balm for these burdensome times.
Store websites were whipped into tip-top shape and curbside and home deliveries were offered. Once closed completely, B.C. bookstores are open again — but things have changed a lot.
“Life in the bookstore is not the same. We see our bookstores as third places where people can gather informally outside of work or home, exchange ideas and relax,” said Evelyn Gillespie of Courtenay’s Laughing Oyster Book Shop. “That’s not the environment we can have now.
“It is great that people can now come in and browse our shelves, but nobody wants to stay long. And with limited capacity we don’t want them to linger, either. That is probably the greatest difference we are all experiencing now — we are missing the joyful engagement with our customers.”
At Massy Books in the Chinatown neighbourhood of Vancouver, the grip of the pandemic was felt earlier than other places.
“There was and still is racism around COVID and a lot of businesses in Chinatown. During February and into March, we saw a massive decrease in business,” said Patricia Massy, the owner of the two-year-old store.
Massy decided then and there to establish a free delivery service, and as soon as she posted the plan on social media, people were onboard. During the month of June her store had more online sales then it had all of last year. She has also added three new staff members.
“People really wanted to show their support for independent bookstores and wanted to see them survive,” said Massy.
Over in Victoria at arguably the country’s most famous independent bookstore, Munro’s Books, the novel coronavirus pandemic reaction was swift.
With the doors shut in early March, staff switched gears and got busy preparing the 62-year-old shop for the future focusing on direct and delivery sales.
“After the first couple of terrible weeks we were actually quite pleasantly surprised. We did a lot of online business,” said managing partner Jessica Walker. “Our online orders, I don’t even know what the math is, are like 10 times what they were before.”
For Alicia Neill, general manager of Mosaic Books in Kelowna, the shutdown reminded her again that the bookstore, which was first opened in 1968, is much more than a business. It is a part of the landscape of the Okanagan city.
“I feel like our community is really good about supporting us and I think we are just a good institution for the downtown,” said Neill. “We just seem to get stronger and stronger, which is nice to see especially in the age of Amazon.”
Speaking of that online behemoth that got its start in book sales, Neill says she’s heard from people during these past months that helping to pad billionaire Jeff Bezos’s bottom line wasn’t something they were going to do.
“During all the COVID stuff a lot of people were saying: ‘You know, I’m not really going to shop at Amazon anymore.’ They actually preferred shopping local,” said Neill, whose parents Michael and Michelle bought Mosaic in 1994.
That proof was in the pudding as Mosaic’s online numbers, like everyone else’s who improved their website game, went up significantly. In the same period last year (March to end of July) Mosaic did around 800 online orders. This year, the number is sitting at around 6,000.
The Neills have a pretty good handle on all things related to online sales as they also run Bookmanager.com, a software company that helps independent bookstores operate. Michael Neill said when the pandemic hit they were slammed with people wanting to improve their websites.