Coping with COVID-19

‘We’re Going to Be Here When It’s Over’: The View From a Small Business Owner

“If independent bookstores like ours are to survive in this difficult time we need your help," says Bookstore1Sarasota's Georgia Court.

By Ilene Denton April 1, 2020

Young author Sienna Alfano, who had been scheduled for a book signing at Bookstore1.

Georgia Court opened Bookstore1 in its original Main Street location in 2011, and business was good enough that she moved to a larger space at the corner of Main and South Palm Avenue in 2017.

“I’d never even worked in retail,” says Court, “but I love books, and when the wonderful Sarasota News and Books [a longtime downtown Sarasota fixture] closed it made me feel upset that this town didn’t have an independent bookstore.” She hired a bookseller with 25 years of experience in the industry who was instrumental in launching her shop and overseeing its growth.

Business has been increasing year over year, she says, and “we were on track to have the best season ever before all this happened.”

As calls for social distancing intensified last month, in mid-March Bookstore1 switched to curbside delivery. Buyers of books, puzzles, cards and games could call, place their order and give their credit card over the phone, and a salesperson would bring their purchases out to their car. “We did that for about 10 days,” Court says. “It was working well, our customers seemed to like it.” Sales were not booming, but they didn’t grind to a halt, either. “Business was like you’d find in an ordinary July.”

“Then I got a little bit nervous about all these reports about people in our area who have traveled who may be wandering around downtown and may have the coronavirus without knowing it. I thought it would be smarter not to be interacting in that way that all.”

On March 30, she sent an e-blast to customers notifying them that the bricks-and-mortar store would temporarily close its doors to the public completely, and books would be available online only.

The e-blast was passionately worded. “If independent bookstores like ours are to survive in this difficult time we need your help,” she wrote. “Online is just about the only option right now… If you are not in Sarasota right now I ask—no, I beg—you to support your local independent bookstore.”

Meanwhile, two employees remain in Bookstore1 to answer the phone and to do the chores that can’t be easily done when customers are coming in and out—reorganizing bookshelves, installing new point of sale software, deep cleaning.

Meet-the author events and the half-dozen book clubs that meet monthly in Bookstore1 have been canceled at least through the end of May. Among them was to be a book signing this weekend by 7-year-old Sienna Alfano, who has just published her first book, The Mysterious Notes. Court says she will reevaluate toward the end of May whether to open in June.

“This has been moving so fast, we’ve been making decisions on the fly, quite frankly,” says Court. “I’ve gotten loads of emails from customers saying thank you, we’ll continue to support you, we appreciate what you’re doing.”

“We’ll get through this,” she says. “It will be a few months. Of course, it’s going to be a financial blow, but that’s okay. We’re going to be here when it’s over.”

Editor’s note:

The state of Florida has activated a small business emergency bridge loan program, which will provide short-term interest free loans to small businesses that are suffering from the COVID-19 epidemic. The application program runs through May 8.

And the U.S. Small Business Administration is offering a Economic Injury Disaster Loan program for for-profit and nonprofit businesses; more information can be found here.

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