How does one spend only 30 minutes —or less — in a bookstore?
In the days of Amazon and COVID-19, store owners in Queens have been faced with that very question. But the customers have been reaching out, both in person by appointment and online, as they too adjust to find what they’re looking for.
A sign on the door at Kew & Willow Books on Lefferts Boulevard in Kew Gardens sums up the situation nicely — “Stay safe. Read books.”
“It’s been going well,” said Vina Castillo, who owns the shop with Holly Nikodem. She said the statewide pause in March caused them to draw up some plans.
“We began curbside service and hand delivery in Queens, bringing the books to customers ourselves,” she said. The store also saw an uptick in online orders when they implemented $1 shipping for a time.
“We were getting orders from several states,” Castillo said. Now that emergency conditions have been eased to allow limited indoor capacity, the shop schedules appointments at which customers can come in and browse for 15 or 30 minutes.
Appointments can be made on the store’s website, kewandwillow.com.
Castillo believes many of their new customers are people who found them while looking around during COVID-required isolation. Ray Harley, who has owned the Austin Book Shop on Jamaica Avenue in Richmond Hill since 1994, believes his business has benefited from that as well. He has seen new customers become repeat ones after finding his secondhand store on book exchanges.
“I’m sending out six and seven packages two days a week,” Harley said.
He specializes in baseball books, along with history tomes and biographies. He recently got requests from out of state for works by sportswriters from the 1950s such as Gene Schoor; and a biography of 1960s Dodgers outfielder Wally Moon.
“I wish I had it,” Harley said.
An advantage Harley has is an incredible deal on rent.
“I own the building,” he said. Another is that his sister-in-law, Kathy Keane, also works with the business.
Appointments for in-person visits can be made by calling (718) 441-1199 or through the store’s Facebook page.
And pretty much any business model can find a way to make it work.
Turn the Page Again on Bell Boulevard is a nonprofit affirmative business begun in 2010, offering jobs and work training for people with mental health diagnoses.
Assistant manager Nina Cassius said the seven-day-a-week used bookstore has had to make a concession or two to COVID-19, but wanted to get back to business as usual as quickly as possible.
“We’ve stopped accepting donations of books right now because of COVID,” she said. “And we’ve never done online or mail orders. But we have a lot of loyal customers who’ve kept coming back.”
Cassius said when they were first allowed to reopen they did so for five days per week just to test the waters. They soon felt confident enough to go back to seven days.
“We make sure our staff has masks, and if a customer doesn’t have one or it looks worn, we’ll offer them one,” she said. “We always had hand sanitizer for our workers back inside the store, but now we have a dispenser near the front as well.”
Customers can come in to look for seven-minute intervals.
“If seven minutes is up and there’s no one waiting outside, we’ll give them a few more minutes,” she said.
Further information is available online at turnthepageagain.com.
The Astoria Bookshop on 31st Street in Astoria offers appointments as well as online and curbside service. Information is available as at (718) 278-2665 or firstname.lastname@example.org.