Oh, hello! Welcome to the new year, but quietly, please. Just slip off your shoes and leave the door ajar, and try not to step on that squeaky floorboard, OK? We’ll keep our voices low and our movements slow, and we’ll just quietly sit and sip some tea, and catch our breath for a minute. Perhaps all the evil humors of 2021 just won’t hear us, and we can slip through the first quarter of 2022 before anyone notices our conversation and wants to join us. Sit all the way across the room, if you don’t mind, and there’s some hand sanitizer on the side table next to that box of N95 masks – of course, help yourself!
I wish I could hug you hello, but the testing kits are still on backorder, and I don’t know if this sniffle is just because the Indiana temperature is below freezing or that my temperature is elevated again. Santa brought me a lovely week of Omicron bedrest this year, and while the timing was great (the shop was closed anyway) my stalwart staff is now playing the “am I sick or am I just tired?” guessing game of January scheduling, and no one really knows if we can fulfill the store hours as posted on the door and an ever-expanding list of social media sites.
None of this was what we predicted for the new year, of course. Looking at my store notes from June 2021 (at least a hundred years ago, right?), we planned to reinstate our in-person story times this month, hoping to re-introduce preschool programming while the Midwestern weather is grim and parents look for indoor activities. Oh, we had such plans for drumming circles and story pantomimes and “learn to read” classes and teen book clubs and mom’s nights out. Instead, we are drumming up business on social media through more bundles of activities to be delivered to doorsteps and picked up at curbside as we pantomime silly dances through the shop windows to entertain the kids in the car outside. The only nights out on the calendar are the appointments for the last swab of the day at the testing lab, so that our spouses can be home to watch the kids. There are a couple of dozen unsent Edelweiss grid requests on my laptop, and I’m finding it really hard to promote anything online, as kiddos and parents are just exhausted from screen time programming. My high school staffers aren’t practicing monologues in the stock room for the spring musical auditions, and the parade of requests for store booths at festivals, conferences and performing arts events has slowed to a trickle of rate sheets outlining the cost of a banner ad for an online fundraiser or two. I’m actually running out of content for the educator newsletter (no author visits to schedule, no “bagels in the break room” breakfasts to host) and I keep just moving that box of giveaways for the next teacher night deeper into the stock room with every trip back there to restock puzzles.
Oh, enough of my handwringing (and could you slide that box of wipes in this direction, please?) How are you doing? Sales were up for just everyone, it seems, in 2021, and I certainly hope that you shared in that bounty. Indeed, every colleague I texted or emailed or pinged through some distanced communication format was terribly busy, stressed about the supply chain, and wondering when the unparalleled customer demand would wane. But it never really did, did it, and we wrapped and we bagged and we shipped and we delivered until the very end of New Year’s Eve, when we closed our doors and furtively totaled our numbers, wondering if the sales records really count when no one is there to celebrate with us. Even that sense of satisfaction from mere business survival that buoyed us through the 4th quarter of 2020 (for if we could do THAT, surely we could do ANYTHING, right?) was a little empty and hollow this year, and the enthusiasm to reinvent our businesses yet again in 2022 is just hard to rally.
I am grateful for the renewed consumer loyalty to local businesses that many of us have enjoyed, and I do feel the stronger sense of community from booksellers of every type and size throughout the country, and there are fewer barriers, it seems, between publishers and booksellers than I can remember in my entire indie bookselling tenure. The deluge of over-communication and requests for sales data from publishers seem to have lessened, and there’s less of a crisis management tone to every email. To be sure, it’s been at least a week since I have read the phrase “in these unprecedented times,” and for that alone I rejoice in my head (quietly, of course, so as not to disturb the universe). While it’s clear that we won’t get together as an industry in person anytime soon, when we do finally gather I think that there will be more understanding of the challenges of “the other side” of our business, and perhaps more direct conversations about what customs and practices we can leave behind in the recovery. Let’s hold on to that imagined future of cooperation and mutual success, while we booksellers continue to complain about shortages and damages, and publishers decry our bookkeeping and inability to meet an order deadline.
Please stop by and visit me next week, if it’s safe to get out, and until then, be well. Don’t worry about the door. We’ll just leave that a little bit open and perhaps some fresh air will do us all some good.