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Local independent bookstores navigate COVID-19 challenges

By now, the terms “socially distant,” “new normal” and “essential” have all taken on a new meaning. The pandemic has shifted the way our lives normally flow and has highlighted what we can and cannot live without.

When it comes to the essentials, there are a variety: food, healthcare, housing, repair services, financial institutions and more. The essentials are what we have deemed necessary for life, things we access on a day-to-say basis to help fulfill a need.

One of these essential is books.

Books help us learn, study and detox. That is why local bookstores have made it their priority to continue providing books to the community, despite closing their physical stores to the public and dealing with the harsh realities of running a small business during a nationwide lockdown.

Jamie Anderson, owner of Downtown Books, told The Coastland Times that indie commerce websites worldwide have witnessed a 1000% increase in traffic. Anderson herself has seen a huge jump in book/puzzle/workbooks requests over the past month.

In order to meet the demand, bookstore owners have turned to pick-up, delivery and shipping methods to get their products in customers hands.

Owner of Buxton Village Books Gee Gee Rosell said if she has a book in stock, she’ll leave it on the porch of her store for customers; otherwise, Rosell has been having her publishers ship directly to consumer.

Others have been shipping books themselves, especially to those out-of-state.

“On Monday I shipped thirty-five packages,” Leslie Lanier, owner of Books to be Red said. Lanier commented that the pandemic has caused her to learn new ways of operating in aspects like shipping and running her business online.

“It’s been a learning experience, which is good,” she started, “hopefully I’m going to keep learning more about technology.”

It seems as though the world wide web has served as a good platform to fall back on during times like these, especially for local bookstores. Anderson said she receives orders not only through her email or the bookstore website, but on all social media sites as well.

“People are [ordering] it on whatever platform they’re on,” she noted. Anderson also runs the bookstore portion of Duck Cottage, where the clientele is mostly out-of-state and can only interact through a screen at this time.

Both of Anderson’s sites have remained active through online/phone-in ordering. She contributes part of the constant orders to locals, and part to those that have been to and care about the Outer Banks.

“It’s amazing to see we get so many comments . . . and people are really worried about the Outer Banks . . . it’s really heartwarming to see people supporting us,” Anderson said.

Despite the uptick in e-commerce for many sites, lack of a having an open storefront during this time has been very challenging for many.

Venetia Huffman, owner of Read ’em & Weep, said she closed her doors to protect her customers, especially since much of clientele is elderly. “Small business is just suffering tremendously,” she said.

Huffman has been taking special request orders and offering contactless delivery at no charge to customers for those requests. If customers inquire about potential books, she will take photos of her shelves to send.

Rosell noted that her sales are a tenth of what they normally would be this time of year. However, she will do what it takes to remain viable.

Meaghan Beasley, marketing manager with Island Bookstore, said her three locations in Kitty Hawk, Duck and Corolla are open for pickup services, but after spring break, the stores were already feeling the loss in sales.

“That would have carried us for a couple months,” she admitted. Beasley said that she is fully aware of the hesitation from her customers due to current circumstances.

“Everything about bookselling is about the face to face and spontaneous conversation. That can still happen over the phone and virtually, it’s just different,” she said.

Different is another word everyone has more or less become accustomed to. Everything has been different, even the way authors are communicating with their readers.

Anderson said she has found three months’ worth of virtual author events. Free tickets to these events are available on her website. Customers are welcome to grab their ticket online, join a Zoom meeting and listen to their favorite author speak on their newly released novel.

Another adjustment that might just stick around. “I hope they continue,” Anderson said.

For bookstores, it’s no question they have had to change their entire business model to fare this unforeseen storm. Their greatest hope is that the local support can carry them through to the end.

“I had this dream [of running a bookstore] for many years,” Huffman said, “and I don’t want to see it all end.”

To contact the bookstore nearest you, contact the following:

Books to be Red: Contact Leslie Lanier at 252-928-3936, www.ocracokebookstore.com

Buxton Village Books: Contact Gee Gee Rosell at 252-995-4240, www.buxtonvillagebooks.com

Downtown Books: Contact Jamie Anderson, 252-473-1056, www.facebook.com/manteoreads

Ducks Cottage: Contact Jamie Anderson at 252-261-5510, www.duckscottage.com

Island Bookstore: E-mail islandbksobx@yahoo.com or call 252-255-5590

Read’em and Weep: Contact Venetia Huffman at 252-202-2454, venetia@readem-obx.com.

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