It has been four months since the pandemic began so we wanted to share with you our journey to keep Bookshop Santa Cruz “open” during this unprecedented time.
When I took over Bookshop Santa Cruz from my father in 2006, he left a single note pinned to the bulletin board in my office. The notecard says, “Fall down seven times. Get up eight.” As the Owner of Bookshop for over 30 years, he had been through big box stores, earthquakes, and the beginning of Amazon. He knew that this job would be challenging, but he wanted to remind his daughter that it is in an indie bookstore’s DNA to fight and survive. When e-books and the great recession arrived in the late 2000’s, I figured it was just my turn to contribute to this storied history. Then 2020 came and I wondered if we had somehow already hit that eighth moment without realizing it.
Bookshop closed its doors to the public on March 16th and the doors remain closed for almost three months. Of course, Bookshop didn’t really close—just our doors. Through the outpouring of support of our community, we fulfilled hundreds of web and phone orders each day, happily sent packages of books around the country, and said hi through our masks when our customers picked up orders curbside. You donated over $14,000 to buy books for kids who lost access to their school and public libraries ( Keep Kids Reading Fundraiser ). You attended our first foray into virtual author events where we are able to celebrate new books even in the midst of a pandemic. You bought commemorative t-shirts (yes, we will rock again) and asked us to send “ take care packages ” to loved ones near and far. We connected on social media through celebrations and moments of mourning. Then, after weeks of preparation, we reopened to the public on June 9th and had the pleasure of welcoming you back to our shelves. It was a joy to be open again, albeit with limited capacity and a slew of new safety protocols to navigate. Through the longest closure in Bookshop’s history and our joyous reopening, you never left our side.
Meanwhile, throughout all of these phases, we spent our days creating an entirely new business model. We went from having a few booksellers who knew anything about web orders, to training a dozen to process orders—and finding that wasn’t even enough. We ripped apart our furniture to create social distanced work stations and put carts up and down our aisles to find efficiencies to run books to your cars. We went from shipping a few packages each day to now needing two staff members to push dollies of orders to the post office three times a day. Staff moved into entirely new roles while half our staff tried to figure out how to do their jobs from home. For some time, we lost access to our supply line which changed all of our ordering and fulfillment. We worried and worried and worried about the safety of our booksellers and worked day in and day out to figure out just the right practices. Our booksellers threw themselves into their new jobs and new responsibilities beyond all measure. They also never gave up on Bookshop or what it means to try to save the store for future generations of readers.
The last four months have been the most difficult of my professional life. The balance of health and economic concerns, the reworking of all of our plans, the need to innovate every program to make it virtually accessible, and the sometimes daily, sometimes hourly changes to orders and best practices meant that even our best laid plans didn’t always work. I have to admit that there were times where I didn’t think we would make it through. Not only are all businesses reeling, but our business was made with the purpose of bringing people together, in the company of books, to create a literary community. All of those elements were at risk. Then I would then remember how you picked us up out of the rubble after the earthquake and refused to step foot into Borders. You bypassed Amazon and donated to our annual Holiday Book Drive. As the quote on the bulletin board reminded me each day, I knew I could count on our customers, staff and community to help us “get up” once again.
Now we face the hardest part of our journey. Bookshop, and every store and restaurant downtown and throughout the County, is facing a new normal. For most of us, our PPP loan funding has run its course and our sales in this new normal are nowhere near normal. We are trying to employ as many of our staff as possible but see a long path ahead as the pandemic stays with us for the remainder of this year and into the next. We understand that you have already given us so much with your outpouring of support in orders and your commitment in seeing us through this unprecedented moment. However, the next few months are actually the time when the stores you care about need you the most in order to survive. So we ask, if you are able, to continue to order books (in-store, online or via phone), purchase gift cards and care packages , and make direct donations to Bookshop Santa Cruz to keep us here for years to come.
The books are too important, the community too wonderful. Thank you for being with us on this journey—we wouldn't be here without you.
Casey Coonerty Protti
Bookshop Santa Cruz