Life After Covid-19: How Has the Pandemic Affected Independent Booksellers?

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Back in March 2020, bookstores, along with other non-essential businesses across the U.S., abruptly shut their doors in order to help contain the spread of the emerging COVID-19 pandemic and keep both employees and the public safe. Almost overnight, indie booksellers started devising new and creative ways to reach their readers and customers — lit events and book clubs moved to Zoom, online book orders surged and contactless curbside pickup became the new normal.

In the months that followed, bookstores had to contend with the same financial uncertainty that has affected a large portion of small businesses across the U.S. While some indie bookstores have been kept alive by PPP loans, GoFundMe campaigns and other forms of community support, hundreds of small bookstores across the country have been forced to shut down permanently due to revenue hits, the inability to secure PPP funding, and the costs associated with repeatedly reopening and closing in response to ever-shifting public health guidelines.

Now that the COVID-19 pandemic appears to be letting up in the U.S., surviving indie bookstores are ready for support. Even well-established and historic bookstores like City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco and Powell's Books in Portland, OR, have found it challenging to sustain enough revenue through online sales and donations to retain employees and keep the lights on. Instore shopping will provide more stability for independent bookstores.

With over 50% of the population having received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, in-store shopping is starting to become the norm again. Bookstores are receiving clearance to increase the capacity of shoppers allowed indoors. Shopping for books may look different in a post-pandemic world, but if there’s one thing the pandemic taught us, there is never a bad time to buy books.