Many businesses have been forced by the pandemic to rethink their business model and this includes many already embattled local bookstores. As if the bigbox bookstores like Barnes & Noble and the online behemoth Amazon weren’t bad enough for many traditional independent bookstores, along came Covid 19. With Governor Pritzker’s “Shelter at Home” order, a number of Illinois indie stores found themselves in deep water. Especially those without an online presence.
As one of the region’s oldest bookselling establishments, we at Town House Books found ourselves in precisely this predicament. Early in May 2020 we launched our online store, which along with hundreds of other independents who joined the bookshop.org movement, created more than a ripple in the market. Our online sales helped fill the void until we could begin offering curbside and has continued to be a growing and essential part of our business.
While many indies offer online shopping, little collaboration exists on the scale that bookshop.org provides. For the first time an alternative exists to Amazon. Bookshop is national in scale, personal in service and with reduced prices.
Being away from our customers has been very challenging. Much of the energy we used to put into handselling books one-on-one has gone into developing lists on bookshop.org that will capture customer’s attention and at least somewhat replicate their experience of browsing our shelves of carefully selected books and receiving a personal recommendation in the store. When social distancing and quarantine began, some of our most popular lists reflected the times: Poetry in a Time of Corona, All the World, an Empty Stage, and 100 Days of Solitude.
According to an article in the Washington Post, “Bookshop’s immediate popularity suggests some customers are willing to support local businesses and eager for a wider range of online shopping options.” This does reflect our experience so far and our hope for the immediate future. We’ve been in business for 46 years and have survived the onslaught of box stores, ebooks, and Amazon. With the support of our wonderful customers, we’ll keep up the battle.
Thank you again for your continued support!