Eight months into the coronavirus pandemic and with the holidays approaching, North Bay bookstores are experimenting with new ways of getting their products to readers—with some boosting online sales efforts, holiday delivery programs and online events.
Although the pandemic restrictions and a months-long shutdown earlier this year were hard on local bookstores, sales seem to be bouncing back at some of the four North Bay bookstores we contacted this week.
Anecdotal evidence seems to indicate that some North Bay residents, following a nationwide trend, have turned to books for solace, entertainment and as a distraction from the chaotic, pandemic world.
Across the industry, sales appear to be up over last year. A November 2020 analysis by industry consultant NPD Bookscan cited in Publishers Weekly found that total book sales were up 7.1 percent this year compared to the same time in 2019.
In what may be one of the pandemic’s silver linings—or a desperate attempt by working parents to keep their children occupied—sales of juvenile nonfiction rose by a remarkable 29.2 percent in sales over the same time last year, according to a Nov. 6 Publishers Weekly article.
Yet, with the ever-present industry threat of online retailers looming in the background, North Bay booksellers hope their customers will choose to support local sellers over Amazon and other online options.
“I’ve just told everyone, ‘If there’s any way for you to, try to support local independent stores and your local community this holiday because they really need it,’” Aubury Doherty, the general manager of Copperfield’s Books, said in an interview.
With that, here is a review of some North Bay bookstores’ Covid-19 experiences and holiday plans.
With nine stores throughout Marin, Napa and Sonoma counties, Copperfield’s is the North Bay’s largest local independent bookstore chain. Doherty, the company’s general manager, says most of the employees are back at work, albeit with some reduced hours as the company heads into the holidays, a crucial season for everyone in the book-sales industry.
Like many other North Bay bookstores, Copperfield’s offers a variety of options including online sales, curbside pick-up and in-store purchase. And, in order to keep customers and employees safe, Copperfield’s urges customers to shop earlier in order to spread out the usual holiday shopping season.
“We’re super excited to be back in business, and things are definitely improving,” Doherty says. “We’re finding different ways to reach our customers. But, as with most of your independent local businesses, sales are down for the year so far.”
Leaning into the apparent boom in children’s books sales, Copperfield’s recently launched CopperBox, a subscription service for young readers. Each month, subscribers receive staff-selected books tailored for readers 0–3 years old or 4–7 years old.
The monthly infusion of literature may help parents trapped at home keep their children occupied—and curious about the outside world.
Copperfield’s also hosts a variety of online events. For instance, on Friday, Nov. 20, the company will stream an online talk with the authors of “Petaluma in Vintage Postcards,” a recently-released pictographic history of Sonoma County’s second-largest city.
Levin & Company, Healdsburg
Aaron Rosewater, one of the owners of this nearly 30-year-old store in downtown Healdsburg, says sales are up this year despite a sharp drop during the first months of the pandemic shutdown.
Rosewater spent the first months of closure updating the store’s website.
“Our hits [on the website] went from being three to five a day, to 40 to 50 a day,” he says.
Still, customers seemed relieved to return to the store in person when restrictions were lifted.
“They were just thrilled to be back in the store,” Rosewater says. “They were so happy to be able to browse and look at inventory, and I think just to get out, because they’d been sheltering for two-and-a-half months.”
Although they cannot accept orders through their website, Levin & Company accepts email and phone orders for curb-side pickup. The store also offers delivery service for Healdsburg residents, a program which may be convenient for customers who want to avoid human contact as Covid-19 cases begin to rise again.
Treehorn Books, Santa Rosa
Grant Hotaling says that sales at Treehorn Books, a store in downtown Santa Rosa which specializes in used and collectable books, are down this year despite somewhat successful efforts to increase online sales.
Going into the holidays, Hotaling says the store, which opened in 1979, is pinning some of its hopes on its annual sale of thousands of calendars. The calendar sale is usually a popular stop for Santa Rosa’s holiday shoppers, in part due to the store’s bargain-bin prices.
“If you have a calendar and live in Santa Rosa, there’s probably a 50 percent chance you or someone [else] got it for you here,” Hotaling says with a chuckle.
Like other bookstores, Hotaling said he has noticed some customers opting for political literature—perhaps driven by the nationwide protests this summer—while others are diving into more escapist fiction.
Whyte’s Booksmith, San Anselmo
This beloved downtown San Anselmo bookstore reopened in late August to business as usual, with regular customers ambling into the store, selecting books from the carts on the sidewalk outfront, or ordering for pick-up, says Manager Kim Moon.
Customers have respected the health guidelines, including wearing masks and waiting outside to let the store clear out, Moon adds.
It must have been a long year for the bookstore: Last September, Michael Whyte announced plans to sell the store after 39 years of ownership.
But, one pandemic shutdown later, the store is still in business.
Moon says Whyte is still holding out for a buyer who wants to maintain the store’s bonafides as a community bookstore, a trait the store’s loyal customers might appreciate even more after the isolation of the early months of the pandemic.
“What customers are saying to us is that having a bookstore in the neighborhood is something that they value, possibly even more so during Covid times,” Moon says.