A line of patrons snaked around the block surrounding the Strand Book Store’s Union Square location this weekend following an alarming post for the shop’s owner. On Friday, proprietor Nancy Bass Wyden outlined the Strand’s precarious financial situation, stating that revenue was down 70% from last year and that the “next few months will determine the future of the Strand.”
“I’m going to pull out all the stops to keep sharing our mutual love of the printed word,” Wyden wrote in the post shared on social media and in an email. “But for the first time in the Strand’s 93 year history, we need to mobilize the community to buy from us so we can keep our doors open until there is a vaccine.”
📣 We need your help. This is the post we hoped to never write, but today marks a huge turning point in The Strand's history. Our revenue has dropped nearly 70% compared to last year, and the loans and cash reserves that have kept us afloat these past months are depleted. pic.twitter.com/mI074pigZu
— Strand Book Store (@strandbookstore) October 23, 2020
Her message sent out a bat signal in the shape of a hashtag: #SaveTheStrand. Patrons answered, flocking to both the store online and in-person.
On Saturday, the Strand’s website crashed from traffic, and in a period of 48 hours, the shop clocked over 25,000 orders, with one woman in the Bronx buying 197 books to fill her shelves. Up at the shop’s Upper West Side location, which opened in July, the store saw its “its best sales day ever,” according to Wyden.
“We’ll actually be able to hire back some of our furloughed employees thanks to this weekend,” Wyden said in a statement to ALL ARTS. “The community has shown that they want the Strand to stick around.”
Though the store was unable to say how many workers can be rehired, it stated that they will be union members (Local 2179 of the United Auto Workers represents the store’s employees). “We’ve been working very closely with the union on all rehiring efforts,” the bookseller said to ALL ARTS in a follow-up statement Tuesday.
The time period since the Strand shuttered in March has been rocky for both the store and its workers. Shortly after it closed, Wyden announced that the Strand would “temporarily lay off the majority” of its staff, resulting in 188 of its 217 employees being furloughed.
“This is the first time in our history that we have had to have a layoff,” Wyden explained in the announcement, which also indicated her intentions of rehiring staff as soon as possible. By July, 33 union employees were brought back on, but shortly thereafter, a dozen of the workers were laid off again. “We were honestly too optimistic about reopening,” Wyden said at the time.
With tensions mounting, the opening of the Strand’s brand new location on the Upper West Side July 15 was met with protestors who rallied against the store’s decision to lay off workers despite receiving $1 million to $2 million in a Payment Protection Program loan, issued to retain 212 jobs in April. Critics also took aim at Wyden’s purchasing of Amazon stock this year.
Last year, Strand bookstore owner Nancy Bass Wyden published an op-ed against Amazon’s physical bookstores. This year, she purchased hundreds of thousands of dollars in Amazon stock after laying off dozens of her employees in the midst of a pandemic. https://t.co/OgTO6hyLz4
— The Baffler (@thebafflermag) September 14, 2020
“As a small business owner trying to maintain operations during difficult times it was necessary for me to diversify my personal portfolio and invest in stocks that are performing,” Wyden told ALL ARTS when asked about her connection to Amazon. “I have to make sure that I have the resources to keep the Strand going. I continue to stand against the unfair giveaways from local governments to giant corporations like Amazon, but the economic opportunity presented by the unfortunate downturn in the market will allow me to keep the Strand in business.”
As the holidays approach and the health crisis continues, independent book stores across the country have stressed the importance of the upcoming months in the sustainability of their businesses. Earlier this October, several local shops participated in the American Booksellers Association’s “Boxed Out” campaign with the goal of raising awareness of the impact of Amazon (which has reported strong numbers during the pandemic) on indie retailers.
On Wednesday, the famed Paris bookstore Shakespeare and Company sent out its own plea, stating that sales have fallen approximately 80% since March. The message was met with an outpouring of support, which resulted in some website troubles for the indie.
The Strand shared the bookstore’s post on Twitter, to which Shakespeare and Company responded to the seemingly shared financial situation, “Solidarité!”
— Shakespeare&Company (@Shakespeare_Co) October 28, 2020
Top Image: The Strand Book Store. Photo: Ajay Suresh.