While you can’t always tell a book by its cover, it seems you can tell a bookstore by its customers—and one iconic shop in New York has some very devoted fans.
As anyone who’s seen the film You’ve Got Mail knows, independent book sellers took a major hit when megastores moved onto the scene. With growing competition from giant online book sellers like Amazon added in, traditional brick-and-mortar bookstores had to rely on their loyal customer base.
One shining example is New York City’s Strand Bookstore, known worldwide for its “18 miles of books.” A Greenwich Village fixture since 1927, the Strand is the single remaining establishment out of 48 bookstores that once ran the length of 4th Avenue’s famous Book Row.
Unfortunately, with the Covid-19 pandemic reducing crucial foot-traffic, store proprietor Nancy Bass Wyden, granddaughter of the store’s original owner, was faced with an awful prospect of having to close the Strand’s doors for good.
In a last-ditch effort to save her beloved family business, Bass Wyden reached out to her customer base with a plea for help. “I’m going to pull out all the stops,” she tweeted, “to keep sharing our mutual love of the printed word. 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’s a vaccine.”
The response from the Strand’s loyal clientele came in the form of an avalanche of 25,000 orders over the course of a single weekend that crashed the store’s website and brought in approximately $200,000 in sales. (One enthusiastic Bronx patron ordered 197 books.)
That was followed up by round-the-block lines at the store’s flagship location on Broadway and East 12th Street in lower Manhattan when the store opened.
“How can I not love my book community for helping like this?” Bass Wyden said in an interview with The Washington Post. “I really don’t think that we’re just a bookstore. I think we’re a place of discovery and a community centre. When I ask for help and they respond this fast, it’s so heartwarming.”
Having suffered heavy financial losses earlier in the year, even with the amazing outpouring of love and a much-needed infusion of cash, the Strand isn’t out of the woods just yet, but Bass Wyden is determined not to give up.
“As the 3rd generation owner,” she said, “I have tried to imagine what my dad and grandfather would do right now after they spent their entire lives—6 days a week—working at the store. I don’t believe they would want me to give up without a fight.”
In the The Bookshop Book, bestselling author Jen Campbell wrote: “Printed books are magical, and real bookshops keep that magic alive… Are bookshops still relevant? They certainly are. All bookshops are full of stories, and stories want to be heard.”
As long as the Strand has stories to tell, there will be people to willing to do their part to help keep that magic alive.