As COVID-19 has forced small bookstores to close, many are wondering how they’ll survive—though a surge in support from communities placing online orders is helping. A new app is designed to let you quickly find local shops so you can help.
“I just happen to like small, cozy bookstores a lot, and I knew that as soon as the lockdown happened, these bookstores would shut their shops. We really don’t know whether they’ll be able to bounce back or not,” says Aakanksha Gaur, an India-based self-described bibliophile who runs an Instagram community called ShelfJoy that shares photos of independent bookstores. As cities began to impose lockdowns, Gaur asked her followers to help crowdsource a spreadsheet listing stores and ways to support each of them. The spreadsheet turned into a simple app called Save Your Bookstore.
“It’s a community that has come together only in the past 15 days,” Gaur says. In just a few minutes, bookstores or their fans can enter details about whether a store is shipping books during the pandemic, if gift cards are available, and links to the store’s social media accounts. (Some stores also offer the option to preorder books coming out later in the year, or to subscribe to monthly books in the mail.) More than 500 bookstores are listed so far, primarily in the U.K. and U.S., with others in Beirut, Berlin, Barcelona, and elsewhere. Gaur aims to include all American indie booksellers, a list of more than 2,500 stores.
Most independent bookstores have already gone through major changes because of the pandemic. In New York City, The Strand let go of 188 employees, its first layoff in its 93-year history. McNally Jackson furloughed nearly 80 employees. But bookstores have also seen strong support from customers—Powell’s Books in Portland, Oregon, for example, had so many online orders in the wake of closing that it was able to rehire more than 100 workers, at least for now. Some stores are also earning some revenue through Bookshop.org, a startup that donates a portion of its sales to independent stores, and also pays bookstores for posting affiliate links.
As shutdowns continue, Gaur is hoping that the app can help keep bookstores afloat. “I want to, in very quantitative terms, get some real value for these bookstores that can be measured, and be able to do something really concrete for them,” she says. “I want to see what other things that we can do to really not let them go under during this time, because we don’t know how much the lockdown is going to get extended. These are community centers.”