Letter From a Bookstore Turning Five During a Pandemic
A Birthday Report from Little City Books, Hoboken
May 2nd, 2020
Happy birthday to us. Little City Books opened May 2nd, 2015, a stunning spring day [click here for an account of that day, on this website]. It was Independent Bookstore Day. It was our city’s annual art and music festival. And it was the Kentucky Derby (I only remember that because Donna dashed around our new not quite organized store to find Mary Oliver’s Blue Horses for someone.)
The first book we sold was Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, to a kid we’ve known since he was a baby. (Now a theater nerd in high school.) The first book we unpacked on the exciting day our books arrived was Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling.
Five years later we’re in lockdown, working long hours as mail clerks, filing grant applications with anyone offering. Our 20+ staff (we favor extreme part-timers) is scattered. Some young enough to go back home, some old enough to have real jobs. We paid April rent, our landlady almost cried.
Five of us who have been here since day one are running this current operation, wandering into each other’s territory. Kate’s throwing things in the Bookazine cart; Donna’s mastering the mysterious workings of our indiecommerce website.
Heather’s been running curbside pick-ups. A very organized person, she arranges orders alphabetically by the front door so people can grab their bag and scurry away. She also stacks puzzles (puzzles!—never thought we’d miss adult coloring books, smaller and in inventory, where are ye Johanna Basford) for people to grab and pay for when they get home. Heather’s getting in her car and driving to Las Vegas this afternoon. Damn.Five of us who have been here since day one are running this current operation, wandering into each other’s territory.
Donna lives a block from the store. She has her cell number taped to the front door for UPS so she can get the boxes from Bookazine. (We love Bookazine.) Also if you email her and she likes you she’ll run over and hang your order off the doorknob so you can get it. A few people have called her cell at 8 am to ask questions. She says it’s a good way to determine who’s an asshole. Don’t call Donna! (She said to add that sometimes she feels bad for thinking someone’s an asshole but DOES SHE REALLY?)
Kat’s in Queens being the Queen of Ingram Direct to Home. She’s developed a literary email style reminiscent of 84, Charing Cross Road and all the best charming bookstore novels. No shortcuts or abbreviations, every sentence complete and correct. Unhurried and polite. Kate’s been reading them aloud to her family due to their calming effect. Kat’s also mad efficient with orders.
Marni makes beautiful signs for our windows telling everyone what the deal is. She makes window displays of all the gorgeous kids’ books and toys and adorable Jelly Cats. Marni has a new book coming out later this month and we’re wrecked that we can’t have a big packed event for it. It’s all about backyard critters and it’s a wonder.
Kate’s at home recommending books and finding she likes it much better over email when she has time to think. In the store under pressure one is more likely to make an expedient, safe suggestion. In person it’s hard to hand someone Rebecca West’s Black Lamb and Grey Falcon all 900 pages and tell them they’re going to love it. Online you can say anything. Also she has discovered she likes being alone in the store with the doors locked.
Here at the birthday celebration in our minds we have lots of people to mention!
Tim M. the irascible store fave and book snob who drove from Pearl River wrapped in flannel and latex to pay cash for the books we’ve been forgetting to bill him for.
The lady overseas who sent in an order for our friend Stephen.
Nicky the Shouting Man for reminding us of everything all the time.
Everyone who’s so patient when we repeatedly screw up their orders and then they’re willing to take something different anyway.
Our UPS guy.
Eugene and Joyce who pretend not to know how to order on our website.
Everyone who’s buying a book or TWO every week.
Online Gift Codes!
Customers who keep ordering even if they’re in the Hamptons.
And David Levithan who may have vamoosed to Short Hills but keeps buying piles of books for all his friends.
Our kids who have been pretty useless during this crisis but they have other fish to fry and we love them anyway.
Mostly our staff who we miss like crazy they are such a bunch of nuts.
Happy Birthday Little City Books!