As COVID cases surge to record numbers and Republicans flirt with a paper coup the future of the nation’s bookstores remains perilous. Yes, we all have a lot to worry about—but if you care about that unwieldy, amorphous thing called literary culture, please spare a moment (or a dollar) to support your local independent bookstore.
Below is a letter from Jonathon Welch the founder of Talking Leaves… Books in Buffalo, NY. Though Welch is writing on behalf of his store, in many ways this letter articulates a broader urgency about the health of small businesses and their importance to local communities. In normal circumstances ordering books directly from your local store is the best way to help, but in this dire moment please consider a direct donation (as we gather them we’ll be adding fundraising links to the bottom of the post).
Dear Friends and Colleagues in the ecosystem of books and reading,
I’ve always described Talking Leaves as a “marginal” business, in two senses. As an independent and idiosyncratic bookstore with a mission beyond the solely commercial, we operate on the margins of the retail world. As a small business we operate with extremely low margins. Financial uncertainty is bred in our bones, yet we have persevered through numerous crises over our nearly half century as a cultural outpost and community resource—blizzards, recessions, construction projects, population decline, superstores, Amazon.
The Covid-19 pandemic has tested our resilience more severely than anything before, shoved us through the margins. We severely reduced our staff while maintaining their health coverage; the remaining booksellers have worked extra hard to handle our web and phone business and to prepare the store to reopen for browsing while meeting CDC guidelines for retail environments and protecting the staff.
Despite the substantial, heartening support of web and phone orders, gift card purchases, and adoption of our e-book and audio book options, we are foundering. Though we have cut costs to the bone, we are still short every month in meeting our operating expenses. We have reviewed many options, including loans, grants, and other forms of institutional and government support, but they alone will not ensure our long-term survival.
A group of “Friends of Talking Leaves,” acutely aware that so many independent bookstores have closed during the past six months, and determined to have us avoid that fate, has created a GoFundMe campaign to help us get through this crisis and beyond. We are gobsmacked. A vital community of the curious, the contemplative, the aspirational—friends, neighbors, strangers, casual readers, avid booklovers—has always wrapped us in an embrace and sustained us, good times or bad. We are acutely aware of the demands for support from so many quarters in this extraordinarily challenging moment, but we hope you’ll join in this restorative embrace to ensure our future.
We have always prided ourselves in being a center for illuminating discovery and hearty conversation, for imaginative leaps and grounded reflections, for intellectual stimulation and playful respite, for aimless wandering and focused investigation. Our success (i.e. our future) has always been principally in the hands of those who shop here; folks who believe in the fundamentals of literacy, literature, solid information, and accumulated collective wisdom, and in the necessity of a strong, vibrant local economy and retail structure; folks who can resist the pull of cheap and immediate gratification in favor of the well-made, well-seasoned, community minded.
I put it this way when we closed our original Main Street store a few years ago: “Our survival depends on you—readers, writers, customers and friends—who understand that consumption is a disease, not a definition of citizenship or a way of life; that the act of purchasing a book from us is an act of relationship as well as of commerce; that such relationships have value that extends well beyond the promise of the cheap and the immediate. To us, you are not, and will never be, a simple economic cipher, a chunk of data to be mined, a folio of appetites to feed and enhance. We look you in the eye, not over your shoulder and into your habits. Your identity and your secrets are safe with us. Long may we share and sustain the sacred ground we inhabit together.”
Many of the “you” receiving this particular letter have never been to Talking Leaves… Books, or even to Buffalo, but we are all bound together in this eco-system of writers, editors, publishers, office staff, printers, sales reps, publicists, distributors, warehouse workers, booksellers, and readers. We know that many of you are struggling as much as we are, but we also know that in trying times we survive when we support each other and stand together. We ask simply that you help if you can, in any way that you can, to ensure that the reading public in the outpost of Buffalo retains this oasis, this fertile link to the deep ecology of consciousness and insight and wonder that conjoins all of us.
Please share this effort as widely as possible among your contacts, here, there & everywhere. With your help and your ambassadorship, we will be around for years to come, inspiring, informing, connecting, delighting, challenging, and comforting readers, building community.
With respect, humility, and deep gratitude,
Jonathon Welch, founder
Click below to donate to bookstores across the country (this list will be updated).
Russian Hill Bookstore, San Francisco · Literati, Ann Arbor, Michigan · Diesel, Santa Monica, California · Marcus Books, Oakland · Frugal Bookstore, Boston · Lake Forest Bookstore, Lake Forest, Illinois · Volumes, Chicago