Welcome Back to the Bookstores

- by Karen Wright

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Company at the company!

Hello all.  Here we are in sunny California in June where it is, at this writing, already way too hot!  Our co-operative bookstore is opening slowly again after a two-month plus closure.  As with all of you, all nine of us are pretty sick of this but at least we are not sick!  We’ve been handed a lot of necessary health regulations which we have to adhere to if we want to stay open. Some make sense, some don’t.  There are so many rules and regulations, gossip and assumptions, that it is completely confusing.  It’s sort of the Patriot Act for retailers only these Health Department rules make more sense.

Grass Valley and Nevada City in Northern California used to be known as a Booktown.  We had ten or twelve competing bookstores.  Slowly but surely, most of them closed their doors. We are the only used bookstore left in Grass Valley.

Booktown Books rose from the ashes. We are a group of long-time experienced booksellers who, instead of each having a bookstore where we have to pay rent, utilities and advertising under sole ownership, gathered together under one big roof and shared rent and utilities according to the space they occupied. Best of all we rotate the front desk and guide duties, so we don’t have to pay people to work here.

We each buy and sell our own books and are paid at the end of each month for our sales, minus the rent which goes to an off-site owner/landlady.  Thus, no one has to be in the store seven days a week or deal with all the problems of store ownership.  We get together to make decisions about expenditures and procedures; sometimes it’s like herding cats.  Booktown Books doesn’t have employees and only occasionally makes use of volunteers.  We are one of the few bookstores of its kind in the U.S. and have been open every day for 23+ years selling only books, music, movies, and some art works.  So, it was a big shock to have to close the store one Wednesday afternoon and not know if and when it could open again.

The partners handled it in a number of ways, depending on their health and financial situations.  A couple barely noticed the difference, they went home put their little feets up and read a good book.  Some exhibited pandemic paranoia, others bore through with calm acceptance, and a couple pooh-poohed the whole thing and did not want to accept the inevitable.  Nonetheless, closed we were for a couple of months. 

Finally, California began, with huge pressure from store and business owners, to open stores in phases.  You can’t blame them; many would be looking at never opening again if the ban went on for much longer. But those nasty germs are lurking out there somewhere waiting for all of us to let our guards down.  So, wear your masks and wash your hands and for heaven’s sake, stay out of crowds.

When the opening bell sounded, Booktown was in the phone and curbside order business for a couple of weeks which did not work very well. Now we can be open with masks and 6-foot distancing, which way too many people ignore.

Most people who go into a used bookstore have no clue what they want.  They may know they want a book about guns, witches or Italy, or maybe just a mystery or good sci-fi adventure, but they want to look at the whole selection to make a decision.  In this type of co-op each dealer may have a section on guns or science fiction, or whatever, and so the customer wants to hunt through each section until they find just the right book for just the right price.  It seems with new bookstores, a lot of folks know what they want and can call and order it and get it delivered curbside.  Grass Valley has one very good new-book store.  That doesn’t work very well with a used bookstore.

But of course, the rent and utilities still have to be paid virus or no virus. So Booktown Books was glad when we got the okay to open, even though no more than ten people (with masks on) are allowed in the store at a time. If they didn’t have one, they were handed one.  If they refused, then they were being selfish and irresponsible and we didn’t need them.  Being open in the face of a highly contagious virus is a dicey proposition in our case because almost all of our sellers are 60-80 years old. 

The question is, can we get back our customer base?  It seems to me that people have now been buying online for a while and have gotten into the habit.  We booksellers with brick and mortar stores need to encourage our customers to put on their masks and get their little selves down to our stores. We remind them about postage rates and condition of books they haven’t actually seen and held.  I have a couple of old guys who come in for a mystery or a movie at least once a week and they tell me they’ll be back for sure!

We hope for the best. We are happy to welcome all our regular customers back and look forward to meeting new people who got in the admirable habit of reading real books while they were home-bound and sheltering in place. We just ask them to wear a mask, be courteous and protect themselves and all of us.

If this sounds interesting, Booktown is always happy to take down the names of book people who might be interested in a space if one of us retires or goes on to other pursuits.  Give me a call or an email at info@wrightbooks.com.  Happy summer and best wishes to you all!

 

AND Note Note Note - we are joining the 21st century as a participant in Marvin Getman's ELECTRONIC BOOK FAIR.  See us there.