For Bookshops, October Is The New December
October, for me, is all about beautiful light and crunching leaves under my feet, adding cardigans back into my wardrobe, and the still relatively new school year full of hope and resolutions. I believe in enjoying each season in its turn and not constantly rushing onto the next thing. If anyone tries to play Christmas music around me before Thanksgiving, I give them a glare that could roast a turkey.
But, this year, with regards to this as to so many things, I’m having to adjust — and if we want our favourite small businesses to survive, we all have to. If you’re buying books, or just wanting to support bookshops so that they make it through this year, please think about starting now.
When you’re shopping for gifts, it’s often helpful to be able to browse and to ask staff for recommendations. While many bookshops are open to customers now, there are often limits on the number of people they can have inside. That often means you’ll have to queue as you wait your turn. The closer it gets to the of the year, the longer that queue will be — and the colder it’ll be outside as you wait.
Less rushed browsing
To help shorten those waits, some shops are currently implementing time limits on browsing. But I know at least one bookseller (me) who’s a lot less strict about that limit on a Thursday in October than she will have to be on, say, 20 December.
Sneaking in some free gift wrapping while you can
At the bookshop where I work, we’ve always proudly and happily done complimentary gift wrapping for our customers. But this year, what with wanting to get people in and out of the shop as quickly as we can, and our staff running around doing extra tasks like locking and unlocking the door to make sure we don’t exceed capacity, we will have to stop wrapping gifts at some point in the next few weeks. On days when the shop is still relatively quiet, though, we’re still helping people where we can.
In the U.S., two printing companies have declared bankruptcy. That likely means books will get smaller print runs, and will take longer to restock when a book does run out — adding days or weeks onto the wait for a particular book.
The United States Postal Service is under severe strain and deliveries are taking longer, which impacts how long it takes for bookshops to receive your special orders. In the UK and elsewhere, it is quite possible the post will also have issues this year as more people order online and more people choose to send gifts to family rather than taking them in person.
If any staff members get sick or have to quarantine or look after a sick family member, that impacts every aspect of a small business and can slow things down. And the sad truth is, nobody knows what will happen to COVID-19 numbers, and if we will have to shut everything down again this winter, and when and for how long. Remember how we all stocked up on toilet paper? Do that, but for books.
So much of this is unpredictable, and while bookshops are doing all they can to prepare, there is so much they can’t control.
There are other ways you can help support your favourite bookshop: you can buy gift cards, use Bookshop.org, or buy audiobook gift memberships from Libro.fm. This year, a 12-month audiobook gift card will net a bookshop $90.
But the very best way you can help is to shop early. Your booksellers will be so grateful to you — and, in January, when they’re still open, you’ll be grateful to past you, too.
Claire Handscombe is the author of Unscripted, a smart read about a young woman with a celebrity crush and a determined plan. She also wrote Conquering Babel: a Practical Guide to Learning a Language, and edited a book by and for fans of her favourite series, Walk With Us: How The West Wing Changed Our Lives.
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