Host: Jessica Stockton-Bagnulo, Greenlight Bookstore (Brooklyn, NY)
Participants: Kevin Smokler (author), Angela Pursell, Jessica Palacios (Once Upon A Time), Ben White (Macmillan), Sarah Pishko (Prince Books), Rebekah Shoah (Boogie Down Books), Maryelizabeth Yturralde (Creating Conversations)
Kevin: Clarification – what makes the situation dire? Jessica S: Not the lack of bookstores, but the lack of living wage etc. – is the business model broken?
Maryelizabeth: What we love: discovery, putting the right book in the right customer’s hand, getting invited to curate books for a gathering or organization – but we still need to be able to buy dogfood
Angela: store open for 5 months, still love everything! Connecting people with a book. Working with kids – helping them find the first book that they love. Support from community
Jessica S: making beautiful retail space matters to me, though maybe not to everyone; but that means it costs more
Jessica P: don’t always love social media [though she’s famously good at it!], but it’s so necessary for the job
Rebekah: bookstore without walls; partner with institutions, etc. During pandemic, my work shifted toward the transactional (largely online); this isn’t why I started this. I love talking about books with kids; I don’t get to do a ton of that as a bookstore owner.
Jessica P: handle a lot of online sales – finally got to meet a family that I’d been selling to online when they came in to the store, magical!
Ben: love physical bookstores; miss being in the spaces as a sales rep. Some of the path forward might be bookselling that doesn’t have physical spaces – that makes me worried for stores that do.
Maryelizabeth: I hope this is not a story of “or”, it’s a story of “and”. You’re always going to have a group that’s dedicated to one or the other, but most will be both — as with ebooks.
Kevin: the exhaustion of the pandemic is from many things, including the fact that we can’t go anywhere – that’s core to who we are as a human species. What we can use from that is that bookstores are cool, provide belonging for people who might not find that elsewhere. If we believe in bookstores as physical spaces, we have to view it as “this is exactly the place awkward/nerdy people should be”, space as not incidental
Jessica S: working in the stores can be joy, but it’s so much harder than it used to be, as for all public-facing jobs in the pandemic. How do we bring back the joy?
Ben: parallel issues with restaurants – automatically adding 2% to every transaction to go to staff. is there a way to translate [required] tips or service fee to bookselling
Alyssa: Kepler’s may be piloting a program like that
Maryelizabeth: there may be a way to communicate that to customers
Jessica P: what kind of person do you have to be to get tips? How to make it fair?
Rebekah: service fee across the board; more equitable, not dependent on generosity
Jessica S: huge demand for books, love for bookstores; how does that translate into making our models more sustainable?
Alyssa: how do you deal with burnout?
Maryelizabeth: what I love most right now is volunteer work for book industry organizations, reading genre
Rebekah: empowering booksellers to explore passion projects on paid time
Jessica S: we had to do a lot of what we don’t love during the pandemic, but we stuck it out knowing that it will come back. the books themselves are the joy when everything else is hard; making space for reading and talking about books no matter what