More people are spending a greater amount of time indoors these days to curtail further spreading of the coronavirus and need to occupy their time with something, so it stands to reason that a demand for books remains.
It thus turns out that restaurants aren’t the only small businesses serving customers through curbside pickup. Chaucer’s Books has adopted the method to safely get reading materials to customers who stop outside the storefront to pick up orders.
Because shoppers aren’t able to walk into the bookstore, grab a book off of a shelf, and pay for it over the counter, Chaucer’s now holds more than 100 books for customers every day and takes a similar amount of new orders over the phone daily, which general manager and book buyer Greg Feitt said is constant during business hours.
“We have essentially three lines ringing and they’re ringing non stop throughout the day,” he told the News-Press.
While business over the phone has certainly increased, Mr. Feitt remarked that nothing beats having customers actually walk through the store’s front door. Not only was it much more pleasant to see customers walk in and browse the store’s shelves, but exclusively taking phone orders and bringing them outside to customers is far more labor intensive. Additionally, although Chaucer’s is certainly seeing business during the pandemic, the fact that most people are staying in their homes rather than going out means that business is not nearly as good as before the outbreak.
“We’re doing twice the amount of labor with 60% of the staff for forty percent of the former income, so that’s the tough part,” Mr. Feitt said.
Under ordinary circumstances, Chaucer’s employs around 26 people, but its staff has been cut down to around 18. According to the general manager, employees not working at present elected to self-isolate because they are either older individuals or have pre-existing medical conditions that make them vulnerable to the coronavirus. Mr. Feitt said that Chaucer’s is still paying for their health insurance and that those not currently working have gotten unemployment benefits.
Unfortunately, paying the furloughed employees isn’t an option. Like countless other small businesses, Chaucer’s applied for the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program but wasn’t lucky enough to receive stimulus funds before the program ran out of money. Mr. Feitt remarked that his store is waiting in a queue for a second round of funding to materialize.
While Chaucer’s like most businesses has felt its overall revenue decrease due to the COVID-19 situation, Mr. Feitt told the News-Press that he is still “impressed” by how many people are ordering books from the store. That’s not to say he’s surprised though, as there are many local residents understandably looking for ways to pass away their time at home.
“With everybody being isolated at home, the need for entertainment, the need for education, and the need for escape is now greater than ever,” Mr. Feitt said.
As it turns out, many customers have looked to the same items to achieve these needs. Mr. Feitt recalled that educational books and workbooks were among the first items to sell out as parents came by to pick them up for at-home lessons. Besides books, the store’s most in-demand item for entertainment is jigsaw puzzles.
“We always carry around a hundred jigsaw puzzles and we sold out of those in March,” Mr. Feitt stated.
Chaucer’s sells many fiction books under normal circumstances, but Mr. Feitt has noticed that the store has sold an especially large amount of fiction since the full effects of the pandemic kicked in. This he chalked up to people looking for escapism at this stressful time. However, there’s no shortage of individuals seeking out nonfiction and fiction books on plagues and viruses. Books in stock at Chaucer’s that have been popular as of late include Albert Camus’ 1947 novel “The Plague” and a variety of nonfiction titles on the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918. Though on the surface this seems somewhat opposite of searching for comfort, Mr. Feitt suspects those customers may be seeking solace in the fact that outbreaks of this sort have happened in the past and
been dealt with.
“There’s a comfort in knowing that these things have happened before and how they were dealt with,” he said.