One of New York Cities oldest bookstores was in a bit of trouble this month until this past weekend. Nancy Bass Wyden is owner of the Strand Bookstores, which was founded in 1927 by Benjamin Bass, a Jewish Lithuanian immigrant, with $300 in cash and a $300 loan. Fred Bass, the son of the founder, began working in the store at age 13, according to his New York Times obituary. Wyden, his daughter, worked at Strand through her childhood and officially became its owner in 2018.
Throughout that time Strand grew into one of the largest independent book houses in New York. It is one of the only surviving bookstores from Fourth Avenue’s famed “Book Row.” A name given to the street for the 48 bookstores it once held.
Nancy Wyden shut down Strand on March 16th, as the coronavirus began to sweep through New York. It was impossible, she said, to keep any part of the business open, even for online shopping, without protective equipment for staff. She furloughed 188 of 217 employees, expecting to bring them back within weeks when health conditions improved.
That obviously didn’t happen. It wasn’t until June 22nd that Strand reopened and brought back just 30 employees. Even then, Nancy said she overestimated a sales rebound and was forced to lay off 12 workers weeks later.
She was in danger of having to shut things down; that’s when she decided to reach out to the community. She took to Facebook and Twitter last Friday to say the business was unsustainable, sales had slumped 70 percent, and their reserves were running low.
“As the 3rd generation owner,” she wrote, “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 and that’s why I’m writing you today.” “I not only feel right now the weight of my grandfather and my dad,” she said in an interview, “but I also feel the weight of the 48 [original] book sellers on Fourth Avenue.”
She asked patrons to “#savethestrand” with some early holiday shopping, noting that “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.”
The community answered in a big way. In ONE weekend the store received more than 25,000 online orders. Ordinarily they might get 600 in the same timeframe. They had so much business their website was crashing.
One woman in the Bronx bought 197 books. A dozen customers asked Strand to design their home libraries. Wyden’s 12-year-old daughter came in to pack books for online orders. In-store, Strand made $170,550 in sales on Saturday and Sunday, Wyden said. By comparison, it lost $316,000 in September.
That one weekend alone should keep the doors open through the rest of the month and into next, it might even carry them through the rest of the year, at that point Nancy said she will reevaluate the future.
Independent booksellers have struggled through the pandemic, with one store in the U.S. folding each week on average, the American Booksellers Association told the New York Times. Meanwhile, their top online rival, Amazon, continues to record sales and profit.
But this moment is an example of how a business can appeal to their community and get help in a troubled time, and it’s your Good News Story of the Day, find more here. When governments cannot or will not help the people, then it is good to know that the people are there to help each other.
Story and Image from The Washington Post.