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Saturday, February 27, 2021

How I’m Coping Without My Bookstore


My old girl, Sarah, in her younger days

“It’s only temporary!” Loretta (played by Cher) yells at her father when he asks to see her engagement ring and she shows him (as he points out) what is obviously a pinkie ring. 


Everything is temporary”! he yells back.


“Moonstruck” is one of my favorite movies, one of those rare films with nary a clinker. Every scene and line is perfect. I think of it as I write this post today because, as you know, my bookstore in northern Michigan is closed while I take my annual seasonal (winter) retirement.


The daily “Shelf Awareness” newsletter has had a regularly occurring feature since sometime in 2020, inspired by the COVID-19 pandemic, called “How Bookstores Are Coping.” The feature tells stories from all over the United States about how supportive customers have been, online orders being received on store websites, tales of curbside delivery; etc. And every day when I read those stories, I feel like a deserter from the front lines, although Dog Ears Books is not closed for the winter because of the pandemic, but only so this aged bookseller can have a respite before taking a deep breath and plunging into another busy season as one of the “working aged” (as another of my still-working friends informs me we are identified). 

Resting on her laurels in old age

Open for business only four months last year when stay-at-home restrictions were eased, I was full of trepidation beforehand, but after another still-working friend helped me out with a professional deep cleaning and I got all my pandemic precautions in place, things went fine. In four months, only two people complained about. having to wear masks (one of them told how to wear it correctly, up over his nose, made a fast exit, and that was okay, too -- his choice). Everyone else was cheerful, and more than one person thanked me for requiring masks and hand sanitizing at the door. 

Sarah with me for her last bookstore season


Bookstore people! They are the best!


Out here in Arizona in the early winter of 2019-2020, I was happy to arrange a couple of very parttime volunteer gigs for myself. On Monday mornings, at the Friendly Bookstore in Willcox, a venture of the Friends of the Elsie S. Hogan Community Library, and on Wednesday mornings in a program that paired older volunteers with at-risk children in early grades at the local public school, reading with them and having them write stories. I loved that git – the first volunteer job of my life! The children were darling, and naturally I felt right at home in a bookstore. 


Then came the stay-at-home order, and everything came to a sliding stop – which is much faster than it sounds. No more reading with little kids at school. No more selling books and honey. No socializing with neighbors, either. 


Well, you all know. We were “all in it together,” we were told over and over. Now, almost a year later, we hope the end is in sight, but life is still not back to normal, and the stories of “coping” continue.


The first winter the Artist and I came out West, there were three independent bookstores in Benson, just 30-odd miles down the pike from Willcox. The one we frequented most often and always found stacks of books to buy closed when the bookseller decided 25 years in business was long enough. The second, which we belatedly discovered on a back street, was gone without explanation last year. And the owner of the third, way out in the country, on a ranch with donkeys (and yes, a little dog, too), died in late 2020 at the age of 90, after 46 years as a bookseller. 


From three indies to none in five years. 


So now, unless we want to drive down to Bisbee or all the way to Tucson (where I had discovered the wonderful Book Stop not long before shelter-in-place order hit), neither of which we’ve done so far this season, we’re thrown back on the pot luck of thrift shops and FOL bookstores, which are better than nothing -- and some very nice and friendly and COVID-aware -- but nothing like the curated collection of an indie. And the FOL place in Benson has been closed since the first of the year. 


I miss the indies and supporting my fellow indie booksellers, my colleagues. Who knows? Maybe before we leave for Michigan this spring we’ll make it back over to the Book Stop neighborhood in Tucson or down to Meridian Books in Bisbee. I hope so. Because I have not yet abandoned the front lines myself, and it’s important to me to support with my purchases – support that really counts -- others who are out there in this always-risky, always changing business called bookselling. 


We indie booksellers all need to make money to stay in business, but we didn’t go into this particular business to get rich. You know why we do it! You wouldn’t be reading “Books in Northport” if you didn’t love books!

Not there now, but I shall return!

Postscript Update, 3/13/2021: The Friends of the Library bookstore in Benson, closed January and February, re-opened March 3, and we made our first visit of the year on March 12. I was delighted to find the volunteer in charge none other than Lenore, retired from the the former Benson bookstore we visited so many times. She was able to tell us that Mary Ann, another of Benson’s booksellers, moved her shop to Apache Junction to be nearer her son. (Mary Ann's and Lenore's former Benson bookshops appear in this old post.) Also, that the heirs of the late Win Bundy, bookseller at Singing Winds bookstore (the one with the donkeys), are trying to figure out how they might re-open. That would be fantastic, as Win's inventory of books on the Southwest was nothing short of mind-boggling.


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