Eric Kelley of The Book Den recently had a first in the 41 years and 22 days he has owned the Anapamu Street book shop.
His first day of zero sales.
He has faced the challenge of selling books in the era of COVID-19, taking only online and over-the-phone orders and delivering them to customers through curbside pickup and mail order. Those limited means of doing business produced $0 in revenue on April 23.
This came as a surprise to the proprietor, who shared his disbelief publicly on The Book Den’s Facebook page the next day.
April 24 didn’t fall on indifferent eyes, however, as it produced what Mr. Kelley called an “outpouring of orders.” Though he couldn’t put an exact dollar amount on how much his social media post generated, Mr. Kelley told the News-Press that orders skyrocketed and that he and his employees took on a staggering and sudden increase in business.
“We were pretty busy,” he said.
A frequent user of Facebook for his business, Mr. Kelley called the zero business post “the first viral post I’ve had,” which he said reached 13,000 people. As of April 28, the post has 63 comments and 98 shares. The former mainly consisted of sympathetic messages and posts by people who said they made a purchase after seeing the post.
One read, “What a bummer. If I were closer, I’d come in and buy some books!”
Another said, “I went in today and bought ‘Lord of the Rings!’ I wish it had been yesterday,” followed by a crying face emoji.
Despite having his first day of no sales, Mr. Kelley said it didn’t leave him feeling “as devastated as one might have thought,” since he was confident the following weekend would have better sales. On the whole, Mr. Kelley was quite sanguine about the conditions under which he must currently run his store.
He said of only filling online and phone orders, “It’s not as great as having customers in our store, but it works.”
Overall, The Book Den has been down 63% of its usual business since it began operating under restrictions on March 20. That may sound like a huge drop in business, but in Mr. Kelley’s view, it’s not as serious as it could have been.
“Believe me, it’s not as bad as I thought it would be,” he told the News-Press.
On top of lower sales, the fact that the store is taking in a greater share of online and phone orders than before means it takes far longer to sell a book than it used to. Echoing the sentiments of Chaucer’s Books Manager Greg Feitt, who spoke recently with the News-Press, Mr. Kelley said greater labor for a fraction of the store’s former income is par for the course these days.
“It’s a lot more than scanning a barcode and saying, ‘That’ll be $10.95,’” he said.
However, the owner said his business is weathering the COVID-19 situation as well as it possibly can thanks in part to his landlord generously giving him and his neighbors a sizable rent abatement.
Once restrictions are lifted, Mr. Kelley said the public will immediately be able to resume browsing The Book Den’s shelves. Of course, certain precautions will continue to be observed.
“I think we will open the store. There will definitely be rules about how many people we can have in the store, social distance, and wearing masks,” he said.
As a small business owner, Mr. Kelley is beyond impressed with how Santa Barbara residents have stepped up to help local businesses in their time of need.
“I think the people of Santa Barbara have been tremendous with their support for local business,” he said. “It’s great we’re a special town that values our locals.”