Independent bookstores turn to their customers to survive coronavirus crisis

East End Books Ptown
East End Books Ptown(Jeff Peters)

Independent bookstores are getting help balancing the books from their faithful customers during the coronavirus pandemic.
Shortly after San Francisco’s iconic City Lights bookstore launched its “Keep City Books Alive” online crowdfunding campaign last week, donations from book lovers from the U.S. and abroad started pouring in.
In less than one week, the world-famous indie bookshop — which was founded in 1953 by Beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti and is generally seen as a cornerstone for the creative community in the U.S. for nearly seven decades — raised nearly $500,000, easily surpassing its initial goal of $300,000.
City Lights CEO Elaine Katzenberger, who had turned to the fund-raising platform to warn customers that the store was on the brink of permanently closing its doors, wrote a heartfelt message of thanks to the still-growing list of more than 9,000 donors.
“Knowing that City Lights is beloved is one thing, but to have that love manifest itself with such momentum and indomitable power, well, that’s something I don’t quite know how to find words for,” Katzenberger wrote.
A man reads a book at the City Lights Bookstore October 3, 2007 in the North Beach neighborhood of San Francisco, California.
A man reads a book at the City Lights Bookstore October 3, 2007 in the North Beach neighborhood of San Francisco, California.(Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
City Lights, which closed its doors on March 16, found itself in a tough spot. “With no way to generate income, our cash reserves are quickly dwindling," she wrote, asking for help.
“The outpouring of love we’re receiving is invaluable,” Katzenberger later wrote thanking supporters.
That love is exactly what independent stores across the nation are counting on, hoping to survive the unprecedented health crisis. Several indie shops have also turned to crowdsourcing campaigns to ask their loyal l customers for help.
Jeff Peters, the owner of LGBTQ favorite East End Books in Provincetown, Mass., said that without outside help, the store’s future is uncertain.
The cozy shop — and a local favorite — lost most of its business because of the pandemic. And, even though there was a small increase in internet sales, that “doesn’t come anywhere close to making up for the loss of revenue from people browsing in the store or coming to book events,” Peters told the Daily News.
“I’m not sure if we’ll be able to get a [Small Business Administration] Loan,” Peter said. “It’s unclear when we’ll be able to reopen and when we do, not sure how long it will be before people feel comfortable visiting businesses again.”
The Provincetown gem is known for its surprising collection of books and magazines, as well as for its in-store events, where customers can mingle with literary superstars such as John Waters and Michael Cunningham.
Justin Moore, who organized Uncle Bobbie’s Coffee & Books’ GoFundMe page, said that the campaign reached 80% of its original goal in its first 10 days.
The Philadelphia neighborhood shop for “cool people, dope books and great coffee,” specializes in black and African writers. On April 1, Moore announced that the store had officially extended its goal to $50,000, which will be used to “support the staff that are unable to work, paying the staff working part-time to work on the most critical tasks, paying our vendors (many of whom are small business owners) and other bills.”
It was the same story at Papercuts J.P., Boston’s “local, woman-owned independent bookstore."
“As of today, things are not looking good,” owner Kate Layte wrote last week. “I’m afraid we haven’t seen the worst yet.” She closed the doors of her “beautiful, spacious and light-filled bookstore” on March 14. The crisis put the future of Papercuts in “jeopardy,” prompting Layte to ask for help.
On Tuesday, perhaps helped by a public endorsement by literary heavyweight Celeste Ng — the author of “Little Fires Everywhere” — Layte was less that $800 away from reaching her goal; 753 donors had contributed with $50,243.

Similar efforts — such as at The Book Tavern in Augusta, Ga., Booked in Evanston, Ill., and Quill Books & Beverage in Westbrook, Maine — are taking place across the nation.

Earlier this month, best-selling author James Paterson donated $500,000 to the #SaveIndieBookstores, a national campaign, spearheaded by Paterson in partnership with Reese’s Book Club, the American Booksellers Association and the Book Industry Charitable Foundation.

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