Everything was wiped clean inside M. Judson, the independent bookstore on Main Street in downtown Greenville.
Some of the shelves were empty, with just a single roll of paper towels sitting where the books used to be. Also gone were all the tables and chairs in the cafe area, where book lovers once sat chatting over coffee.
Except for a few employees, the place was empty.
“People are still calling in, at least,” said Ashley Warlick, the book buyer for M. Judson. “What’s really cool now is I’m having phone conversations that are sometimes 20 or 30 minutes long with people on a daily basis about what they like to read. It’s really lovely.”
For now, M. Judson and other independent bookstores in South Carolina are among the businesses that must keep their doors closed to the public during the COVID-19 outbreak. Buyers can still use online resources like Bookshop.org to make a purchase. They can also call for curbside pickup and delivery — and as Warlick said, they’re welcome to call in for book recommendations or just to talk literature — but no longer can they linger among the shelves, browsing for titles.
The elimination of that casual browsing is a big hit, according to Anne Waters, executive director of the Hub City Writers Project. For an industry that’s dependent upon foot traffic, author events, book club meetings and other community engagement events, the closures are already proving crushing for independent bookstores.
“A significant dip, no question about it,” Waters said. “From the beginning we have really been a brick-and-mortar establishment for the bookshop and have not done a lot of internet sales.”
Waters said it’s especially heartbreaking for an industry that has otherwise proved resilient against the advent of online retail giants like Amazon. Since Hub City opened its bookshop seven years ago, it has seen growth each year — until now.
Jill Hendrix, owner of Fiction Addiction on Woods Crossing Road in Greenville, said the past month or so has been unlike anything else in the nearly two decades she’s been in business. While Fiction Addiction is adapting with virtual author events and $50 “grab bags” of curated books, it still doesn’t change the unpredictability of the current moment.
“I opened the store right before 9/11,” Hendrix said. “That obviously was really slow, but this is something completely different.”
How to help
Dubbed the “Amazon for independent bookstores,” Bookshop.org gives 30% of each purchase to an independent bookstore of your choosing. Simply search for your favorite local bookstore on the bookshop website or head to the store’s own site for a link to their Bookshop.org portal. Bookshop.org is also raising money to be split evenly among stores nationwide, with nearly $600,000 raised so far.
Here are the direct links to the portals for local bookstores:
Gift cards are the most direct way to help out independent bookstores, with the added bonus that you can give them to friends and family — or, given the circumstances, to any health care worker or other essential worker you know.
Curbside pickup and delivery
Independent bookstores have launched delivery and curbside pickup services to accommodate the lockdowns. Find more information at: