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Culture

How To Support Local Indie Bookstores During the COVID-19 Shutdown

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Johnny Louis
Mitchell Kaplan, owner of Books & Books, one of South Florida's most popular independent booksellers.

Brick-and-mortar bookstores might not be considered “essential” during the coronavirus pandemic — but books are,  judging from internet sales data.

 

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The market research firm Rakuten Intelligence found a whopping 777% increase in online book purchases throughout the time that widespread stay-at-home orders went into effect across the country.

Still, there are so many things a local bookshop offers that online sellers can’t — a gathering place where you can browse, and a place to host author events and movie screenings.
 

Here in South Florida, Books & Books has six such shops throughout Miami-Dade, plus a location in Key West and one in the Cayman Islands. But in the midst of the pandemic, all of those locations are shut down until further notice.

"The only one that is open is our online store," says Mitchell Kaplan, owner of Books & Books.

And as with so many other independent bookstores nationwide, the cancellation of live author events has temporarily snuffed out a major part of Books & Books' revenue stream. But the company is still holding virtual readings and conversations with authors online.

Kaplan says there are numerous ways that people can support their favorite indie bookstore during the shutdowns. The easiest way, he says, is to shift their buying from major online sellers to their local bookshop. He points out that stores like his can get books as quickly as any major retailer and many offer free shipping.

Another way is to buy a gift card from the local store for future purchases. "I call it 'Christmas shopping in April,'" says Kaplan.

"People are buying gift cards that they will hang on to and basically bank them until they want to do their Christmas shopping," he says.

Faced with indefinite shutdowns due to the COVID-19 crisis, indie bookstores nationwide have been strugglng to survive. Nearly 1,200 U.S. bookstores have turned to online fundraising just to stay afloat. One of the highest profile efforts is the GoFundMe campaign to save San Francisco's legendary City Lights Books, which famously published Allen Ginsberg's collection "Howl & Other Poems" in 1956. Within days of asking for help, the campaign raised nearly $500 thousand dollars.

For Mitchell Kaplan, that response from City Lights' devotees demonstrates the importance of local bookstores in the communities they serve. He says that online orders to Books & Books have been accompanied by notes of appreciation from longtime customers; among them, people whose parents taught them to read in the kids'section and a woman who met her future husband at an author event.

"It's a lifetime worth of experience that I'm now understanding the bookstore has given to so many different people," he says.