How To Engage with Independent Bookstores During the COVID-19 Outbreak

Porter Square BooksPorter Square Books. Photo by Irina M. / IM Creative Photography.

With the nation in a state of isolation to prevent the spread of COVID-19, many are left in search of ways to stay productive and keep their minds occupied. One of the best ways to do so is by reading! But before you hop onto Amazon.com, think of the local bookstores like Porter Square Books who could use your support.

Scout Cambridge caught up with Kate Mikell, assistant manager at PSB, who urges people to support independent bookstores over online powerhouses like Amazon and Barnes & Noble. 

“It’s a difficult time for small businesses, and it seems as though it may get even harder in the near future. Generally, bookstores tend to operate on a thin profit margin, so they need money coming in to be able to do things like pay employees, bills, and rent,” says Mikell. 

Porter Square Books still plans to pay all employees for their scheduled hours while they close down the storefront to protect the members of the community. These costs add up, and Mikell adds it is important to remember that “independent bookstores are important community spaces, and that aspect of the Porter Square Books experience is really important to many of our local customers, as well as our staff.”

Just because PSB has closed its storefront doesn’t mean you can’t still show your support and use its services. Like other bookstores and local businesses, PSB has implemented shipping options, such as free media mail shipping anywhere in the country and free local delivery to Cambridge and Somerville, Monday through Friday, as well as curbside pickup. 

Here are some ways to engage with local independent bookstores like PSB during this time. 

Make online book orders. This is one of the higher sources of income for most independent stores. “On a bright note, the e-commerce platform that hosts many independent bookstores’ online sales has reported a surge in sales in the past few days, so communities are definitely rallying to support their independent bookstores!” says Mikell. 

Pick up the phone. Calling in orders is a great way to personally connect with local stores, or even simply to get recommendations from employees. Mikell encourages people to call anytime “to talk about books or place orders.” In times like these, a friendly phone conversation goes a long way. 

If you want a book, you don’t have to buy it right away. “You can also pre-order books that you were planning on buying in a few months, or purchase a gift card if you aren’t sure what you want to get but still want to offer your support during this difficult time,” says Mikell. 

Order ebooks or audiobooks outside of Amazon. Mikell recommends an audiobook service called Libro.fm, which partners with independent bookstores and even allows you to choose the store you want to endorse. “Right now, they’re running a promotion where if you create an account, you get two audiobooks for the price of one, and 100 percent of your payment will go to the independent bookstore of your choice,” says Mikell. Though, she does mention that PSB also sells ebooks through Kobo, another independent ebook platform. 

If you’re not a reader, get something else. Some local bookstores are selling other items outside of books. “Cafe Zing, which shares our store space, has had to completely shut down operations, so to help them keep up some income we’ve made bags of their coffee beans and chocolate bars available to order. We’ve also made board games and puzzles available to order online so that people can have fun things to do,” says Mikell.

Interact with stores on social media. Give your local bookstores a follow on Instagram or share their posts on Facebook. Sign up for their newsletters or check out their online website. Mikell says, “interacting with us on social media helps–plus it really brightens our day, and hopefully does the same for our customers!”

To read more of Scout Cambridge‘s coronavirus coverage, click here.

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