How to open a bookstore during a pandemic: Prepare for delays and lots of cleaning.
Timing is everything, but during the pandemic, it largely hasn’t been on the side of businesses. So I was recently surprised to see The Strand, whose iconic storefront in Union Square attracts thousands of visitors a year, opening a new branch in my neighborhood last month—and in a space where, just several months prior, another bookstore had closed amid financial difficulties and a very public dispute between owners.
The opening date had already been delayed from April, for obvious reasons, and it opened to a protest by ex-employees, some of whom had been laid off from The Strand during the pandemic, who marched outside while voicing complaints about management and owner Nancy Bass Wyden in particular. Today, the store is open to customers six days a week.
James Case Odum, the store’s communications director, answered a few questions about how they’ve been able to make it work.
How did planning for the expansion change as the coronavirus pandemic began?
We originally planned to open The Strand at Columbus Ave. in April, and it was devastating to not be able to. But we were able to safely and steadily stock up the store and prepare during the city-wide shut down. We saw some form of delay from most of our partners, from the printers that handle our signage to book publishers to vendors that provide our gifts and small goods, so outfitting the store took more time than expected, but we got it done. It certainly wasn’t the opening we imagined, but we’re up and running and so happy to be providing Upper West Siders with great books.
What logistical difficulties have you faced during this process, and how have you been able to address them?
Closures and delays have affected all businesses. From huge delays at the post office to shutdowns affecting key vendors, it was a challenge to align the pieces correctly to queue ourselves up for a successful opening. In our new reality, there’s also the added complexity of ensuring all the correct safety measures are in place to protect customers and staff. We’re closely following the guidance provided by the governor for retail businesses, with an emphasis on regular disinfecting and sanitizing throughout the store. With that being said, we have an incredible team that has worked diligently to keep the business running on all fronts.
How are sales doing?
Sales have been strong, particularly considering how much smaller the store is compared to our [Union Square] location. Foot traffic in the city is a hurdle with so many people staying home, which has led us to simultaneously focus on our online store and virtual events as well as operating our retail stores. We’re optimistic that our mix of retail and digital offerings will keep The Strand going strong.
What kinds of reactions have you received from customers in the neighborhood?
The community has been incredible. A lot of the support we got from our opening week was from local UWS outlets and newspapers excited to have another bookstore in the area. To open a new store at this time is a testament to the durability of independent businesses in New York City, so we’re doing everything we can to add to the local community.