What aspect of life pre-Covid do people miss the most? Extroverts might say bars and clubs, but more introverted types might yearn for the hours they leisurely spent among bookstore shelves. Finding and purchasing the perfect book is almost secondary to the act of browsing — grazing one’s fingers on the dust jackets, inhaling the musty smell of paper and ink.
Unrestricted perusal in stores may still involve risks, but some bookstores have been reopening under the guidelines of phase two of Gov. Baker’s reopening plan, giving bibliophiles a taste of what they’ve been missing.
Armed with hand sanitizer, the Provincetown Bookshop, at 246 Commercial St., is allowing eight masked patrons inside at a time. Manager Deborah Karacozian says that, unlike hard surfaces, books, with their fragile paper pages, are hard to sanitize. She is encouraged, however, by news that the virus is not primarily transmitted through touch. She has opted not to require gloves, as she feels they breed a false sense of security.
Founded in 1932, the Provincetown Bookshop is charmingly old-fashioned — it doesn’t have a website, only a Facebook page, so few of its sales are online, though the store does offer curbside pickup and local delivery. “The window is our best selling point,” says Karacozian.
Just next door at 242 Commercial St., Tim’s Used Books has also reopened and allows five patrons in at a time, all of whom must wear masks and gloves. Owner Tim Barry says he is closely following the guidelines for retail stores, and though he is allowing book donations, these are sanitized and quarantined before making it onto the shelves. Tim’s Used Books also doesn’t have a website, only a Facebook page, but Barry says he sells books online year-round. Through Amazon, he sells the books that are unlikely to be snatched up in person — “more niche items” — though many independent bookstores consider the online giant to be a threat.
Jeff Peters of East End Books Ptown is focusing on online sales and events, and says he does not anticipate reopening for indoor browsing until August. The store, at 389 Commercial St., offers curbside pickup and free local delivery, and its website, which operates through the American Booksellers Association, gets a lot of traffic and sells e-books and audiobooks to compete with Amazon, Peters says. But he adds that shipping and operating costs are not as sustaining as in-person sales, especially during the busy summer season.
When Peters does reopen for in-person browsing, he has some creative ideas: an online booking system, hours for elderly or immunocompromised people, one-way traffic in his aisles, improved air circulation, and outdoor book events. He admits that it will probably feel different than the pre-pandemic era — his comfy, fabric chair will be unavailable for reading, and the practice of leafing through books and skimming back covers might be replaced by staff recommendations and reviews.
In Wellfleet, Herridge Books, at 140 Main St., is due to reopen on June 26, and the Bookstore & Restaurant, at 50 Kendrick Ave., is hoping to reopen its bookstore soon.
In this age of online shopping, it is more important than ever to be aware of who is benefitting from your business. Amazon is able to offer low prices, but this has put a squeeze on publishers and booksellers, and many have closed.
Main Street Books in Orleans uses an alternative e-commerce website called Bookshop.org, which claims to funnel 30 percent of revenue from sales that are made through an affiliated independent bookstore back to the store. For sales made online without an affiliated bookstore, 10 percent of sales go into a fund that, according to the website, is “evenly divided” and distributed to independent bookstores nationwide every six months.
While bookstores face real financial challenges this year, there is hope that with screen fatigue and boredom, the demand for physical books could be high. Tim Barry predicts that people will take the opportunity to tackle overlooked classics and find “a newfound affection for books and reading.”