Small independent bookstores, perhaps the canary in the economic coal mine along with restaurants, are fighting to stay alive in this age of pandemic and social distancing. Some are closing their doors but remaining active online; others are offering free delivery and curbside service so that customers don't have to mingle. Most events are canceled, including bookstore book clubs.
So far the list of temporary closures includes Moon Palace, Wild Rumpus, Milkweed Books, Magers & Quinn, and Irreverent Bookworm in Minneapolis, SubText Books and Red Balloon in St. Paul, and Zenith Bookstore in Duluth. Other bookstores — Next Chapter, Birchbark Books, Once Upon a Crime, Eat My Words and the Storied Owl — are staying open, some with caveats. Next Chapter will limit its hours and ask folks not to browse. Birchbark Books will limit customers to five in the store at any one time and will offer curbside pickup for folks who want to buy online. Please check websites or call the stores before you go as this is changing rapidly.
All bookstores urged customers to support them online — buying books, audiobooks or e-books from their websites. Many local bookstores are now offering free shipping.
Bookstores serve as neighborhood community centers as well as places of commerce, making the decision to close even more difficult.
"We pride ourselves as being a place where people can come and meet each other and discuss books and ideas," said David Enyeart, manager of Next Chapter Booksellers, 38 S. Snelling Av., St. Paul. At the same time, he said, they were trying to make a good decision both for the staff and the community. "We're very torn," Enyeart said. "We are definitely mindful that we need to be responsible."
SubText Books in downtown St. Paul will be closed to customers as of Tuesday morning, said bookseller Matt Keliher. "You can purchase books on our website, and we'll be available via email and phone to give recommendations and place orders," store managers said in a press release. "We offer free local delivery to St. Paul and Minneapolis, and we ship nationwide. Truthfully, this is a scary decision to make, but we know it's the right one. We're grateful for your support, and we look forward to re-opening and seeing you again soon!"
This is the model that Magers & Quinn and other stores will also use, keeping staff employed and answering calls and sending out online orders.
"Even though we will temporarily close our doors to public browsing starting Tuesday, March 17, we will continue to conduct business and offer all of our products for sale to our customers on our website or by phone. Orders will be shipped direct or available for will-call pickup," Magers & Quinn said on their website late Monday.
Louise Erdrich, owner of Birchbark Books, 2115 W. 21st St. in Minneapolis, said in an e-mail to customers that her store is currently open regular hours and is "adapting our services so that we can best support our community and be available to people who are reducing outside contact."
The store is planning online events, including Erdrich reading from her new novel, "The Night Watchman," as well as recorded readings, interviews and other "online gatherings."
"For people who are staying home we will be putting books into Little Free Libraries all through the cities," Erdrich wrote. "Hope you enjoy!
Moon Palace Books, 3032 Minnehaha Av., Minneapolis, posted Sunday on their website and Twitter that they are closed until further notice. "We feel that we can no longer justify encouraging people to visit or gather in a large public place so that we can sell you books or pizza," they posted. The bookstore and its adjacent restaurant, Geek Love Cafe, are both closed but accepting online business — books and gift cards.
Angela Schwesnedl, co-owner of Moon Palace, planned to meet with the Main Street Alliance and the city to get a better sense of what kind of assistance might be available for them.
"I believe that closing was the best thing to do for our community and I absolutely plan to reopen," she said Monday. "I want to figure out how to come through this with as many bookstores and other small businesses able to reopen as possible."
Milkweed Bookstore on the ground floor of the Open Book Building, 1011 Washington Av. S., closed on Friday. "All events through the end of April have been postponed," said manager Hans Weyandt. "I worry about our staff and the staff of other places. I'll miss visiting and shopping at other stores. More than anything we are a team and we will try to make it through this into a certainly different future."
James and Mary Laurie Booksellers, a used and antiquarian book shop at 250 N. 3rd Av., Minneapolis, plans to remain open.
"We opened our shop 45 years ago because we love the personal contact it allows with customers," Mary Laurie said Monday. "We learn from them every day. We have bemoaned the internet for taking this away from us. In the face of this virus we have found that the internet is actually an ally. Today I am grateful for the e-mails and purchases that have been made on the internet with notes of support for what we are doing. Our doors are open and we have had browsers quietly passing the time in our shop."
People who want to buy books — physical, e-book or audiobooks — can purchase them through bookshop.org or the websites of individual bookstores. Audiobooks also can be purchaed directly from libro.fm.