If you can’t get to the bookstore, the bookstore can come to you. That’s the reminder from some independent book sellers in Vancouver as concerns about COVID-19 ramp up and residents are increasingly staying home to protect their health and the health of others.
Chris Brayshaw, owner of Pulpfiction Books, which has outlets on Main Street, West Broadway and Commercial Drive, said his three stores will remain open for regular hours for the foreseeable future, but he took to social media this week to remind clients of services the store has provided for years.
His staff have been, and will continue to, take orders by phone, via email and on social media through platforms such as Twitter. Orders are mailed at cost, but are free for ones over $50. Pulpfiction can also hand-deliver anywhere from Pemberton to Hope, a service that’s free for orders over $50.
“It’s kind of business as usual, but I thought it was probably a good idea to reiterate that because a lot of people seem to be off work or off school or are at home looking after kids, and [might be thinking], ‘Oh my god, it's hard. I'm trapped in my house, in my apartment, and I can't go out and pick stuff up,’” Brayshaw said.
“I have a full-time delivery person who has been working with us for the last, probably, six or seven years. I thought it was just an idea to reiterate that — you don't have to come to the bookstore, the bookstore will come to you.”
He said business, to date, hasn’t been adversely affected by fears about coronavirus.
“We seem to be, so far, quite fortunate in that I don't see any real change from the last couple of springs. If anything, business maybe even up a bit so far,” he said.
“Lots of folks are still coming in. There have been days in the past where, say, there’s been a huge snowstorm or rainstorm and very few folks come in. Fortunately, there's all kinds of work to do here. There's deliveries to pack. There's online sales, there's dealing with clients remotely through Twitter, through Instagram, or through email. There’s no shortage of stuff going on. If things got really, really, really bad, as long as we were still healthy, we could lock the front door and have a full day of business just with online contact.”
When asked if virus-related titles have become more popular in light of the health crisis, Brayshaw said, not really, aside from calls about American author Dean Koontz’ 1981 novel The Eyes of Darkness, thanks to internet rumours, which have been debunked on some sites, suggesting the book predicted COVID-19. Brayshaw, who’s not a Koontz fan, said the book is out of print. He hasn’t seen a copy for years.
“There are copies now selling on ebay for hundreds of dollars. So we're getting all the pretend casual phone calls, [saying], ‘Oh, just wondering if you happen to have a copy of this particular Dean Koontz title kicking around,’” he said.
Rod Clarke, co-owner of The Paper Hound Bookshop on West Pender, said it’s also been business as usual at his store, which remains open. Like most, they’re dealing with the situation day by day.
Clarke checked his sales, comparing the first 12 days of March last year to the same period this year. Sales are up nine per cent in 2020 during that stretch.
"It just goes to show our business hasn't gone down, it's actually gone up marginally. Maybe people are stockpiling books for the duration of the coronavirus episode," he said.
The store has always offered a free delivery-by-bike service within a prescribed radius that includes neighbourhoods such as the West End, Mount Pleasant, Kerrisdale, and extends to East Vancouver. Clarke said they’d step up that service if demand increases in coming weeks.
And, as more people spend more time at home, that may happen.
“It stands to reason, you can only binge watch Netflix for so long,” Clarke said.
But he also noted that in-store customers could easily maintain a six-foot distance from other people in the shop.
“Because of the nature of a book shop, it’s something that you can go in and out of pretty quickly. Our shop is small, but you can still keep a six-foot barrier if that’s a concern,” he said.
“People are self-isolating, but if they choose to come out, and not use the delivery service, usually they would come into the shop and go back home right away without too much risk.”
Patricia Massy of Massy Books on East Georgia in Chinatown is starting up a book delivery service throughout Metro Vancouver in response to health concerns around coronavirus. She wants to make it easier for customers who are concerned about going out to shop.
“We're scheduled to do deliveries on Sunday and then, depending on if we get more [orders], we can do one other day throughout the week. Right now, we're planning to do deliveries at no cost,” she said.
“There's no minimum or maximum of how many books you want to buy. I'm also thinking I may just continue once the COVID-19 [concern] dies down. It might be nice for folks who maybe have mobility issues.”
She’s noticed business being slower recently — with Thursday morning being particularly quiet. But the store is operating under normal hours. She has received requests for particular titles over the past 24 hours such as The Plague by Albert Camus and Severance, which depicts a pandemic, by Ling Ma.
“People have asked me what I recommend to read, and I've been just telling people if you have high anxiety or OCD, maybe don't read some of those books. Maybe read something else,” she said. “I’ve got a list of books that I recommend that are not related to that theme.”
Meanwhile, although Brayshaw at Pulpfiction isn’t yet worried about coronavirus affecting the business climate at his stores, he is concerned about the health of older people, including his own parents, as well as how other Vancouver businesses might suffer in the coming weeks and months.
“A lot of friends who work in the food service industry are concerned, particularly places that do sit-down dining and depend on people making reservations, as opposed to just walking in. Anecdotally, I'm hearing that a lot of reserved sit-down places are having cancellations,” he said, while calling on other Vancouverites to help mitigate losses those businesses may incur.
“There's a couple of places that I like to eat at. I'm certainly considering giving a call, or dropping by, and picking up some gift certificates because I have a feeling, in the next month or two, that a lot of those places are going to have really crimped cash flow. I want to make sure that they stay in business and that they're still around.”