Booktending in Distress
Updated: Mar 31
No one would argue that these are strange times for everyone. With a pandemic in full swing, we are each modifying our lives in some way. Some, no doubt, are more extreme modifications. My heart breaks when I think of all those lives affected by the loss of a loved one, the stress and anxiety of a medically fragile family member puts on those around them who are in full-blown protective mode, the impact of those medical personnel on the front line caring for hundreds or even thousands of patients. So, I'm hesitant, given those many who I just mentioned, to even write about my thoughts on how our little independent bookshop has been affected. The few times my family has crossed paths with others during this social distancing, though, I have been asked how the shop is "holding up". So, this platform might be the best to get it out there.
The shop is holding up. Beginning the first week in March, I started hyper-actively cleaning the store. I wiped doorknobs, light switches, chair arms, shelves, counters, and the point-of-sale with antibacterial wipes. I sprayed everything with Lysol. I was washing my hands and providing hand-sanitizing gel to customers. I was already concerned about positioning myself or my immediate household anywhere near medically fragile people in our lives. I was met with skepticism. Many people felt I was over-reacting -- and told me so. I heard them, but cleaned surfaces while no one was looking. Then, March 10th, we hosted our regularly scheduled book club, but instead of our typical set up, we served individually wrapped snacks and drinks. And, again, put the hand-sanitizing gel front and center among the attendees. Our shoppers were already dwindling. Sales had tapered off, especially when compared with the previous year.
Since March 16th, when we first closed the doors of the shop to comply Federal recommendations, I have been the only woman in the store. My first thoughts, at that time, I hate to say, were not super-positive. We, along with our "sister store", Sanctuary South, had been discussing the impending wave and were determined that we do our part to help decrease the potential for exposure. Although at the time, we felt a little ahead of the curve (our state had not yet issued recommendations for such actions) - each of us expressed concerns that more restrictions were coming. Unsurprisingly, closing the shop was met with criticism. Some were direct questions about losing sales, some were passive-aggressive comments about other shops in Franklin staying open...all landed in my ears and in my heart. I didn't want to be closed. It just seemed the best thing to do, at that time, given our own concerns about being exposed to the virus or potentially being a place that might expose others. That initial decision was supposed to only be for a 15-day period. My thoughts were that it would get worse. But, my words stayed positive.
My attempts to both limit or all-out avoid contact and still keep the store running came in the form of household deliveries. Customers could place orders or requests over the phone (I was still going into the shop most days), via Facebook Messenger, Instagram, or even direct messaging and text and I would charge credit cards and deliver items to the front porch without interacting in person. I was answering messages into the evening and first thing in the morning. I wanted to go the extra mile. I even ordered items that I thought would serve families best during social distancing like puzzles, activity books, and coloring and art supplies. Then my packages began to be held as "non-essential business deliveries". The shop, again, was met with challenges to overcome logistics, lag-times, and simply not having what people wanted. Sales were pretty good in the first few days of home deliveries, but orders have slowly dwindled as news begins sinking in that this is indeed getting worse. And, then, there were the new criticisms. Some not content with the way in which items were posted, or that we couldn't take appointments to shop in-store...some, more indirect comments about "these businesses staying open" or "just STAY AT HOME, PEOPLE". I was certain that I was "that business" and I was the "people" to whom they referred. And, I heard them all and felt them in my heart.
Now, with the president suggesting social distancing measures that will last a minimum of another 30 days, meaning that our little bookshop will at the very least be shuttered until the end of April; I hate to even imagine what this will mean for the future of the store. But the store is holding up.
The store is holding up, but I'm not sure I am. I don't know if my heart can bear much more of the worry, the anxiety, and yes, the criticism. Here I am. I am scared of the virus, too. I'm scared for myself. I'm scared for my family. I'm scared for the business. I'm with you in holing up in my house most hours of the day. Venturing out to try and support the business, worried that I'm not doing enough for it to stay "holding up", and then running back to the house to support my own children in their learning at home, eating 3 meals (Who am I kidding? Eating 5, 6 meals) a day, and touching base by phone or message with my people. I'm still washing my hands until they crack and bleed. Wiping surfaces. It's a lot. In the midst of all the virus focus, as some of you know, there are other medical blows hitting my family that are complicated by this stupid virus.
And even reading the lines as I type them in almost stream-of-consciousness format, I think, I am my shop. If I don't hold up, it surely won't. This is booktending in the time of distress. I am the booktender. I am distressed. It IS a lot. What can I do?
John Wesley once said, "Do all the good you can, By all the means you can, In all the ways you can, In all the places you can, At all the times you can, To all the people you can, As long as you ever can."
That's the best "I can" statement I've ever read. I'll do all the good that I can to get through all of this with some measure of sanity on the other side. If you can...support your local bookshops, restaurants, boutique stores. They really need it, now. If you can...give us a call for items we can deliver to you. If you can...order books through https://bookshop.org/shop/boundbookstn
We can all only do what we can. And, maybe, we can give a little grace to others, as well. Maybe press "pause" on the criticism. I'm sure there will be room for that later. Maybe we can all offer support and love and positive reinforcement. And...chocolate. As Professor Lupine told Harry Potter, "It really does help".