Bookstores across the Southland and the nation have long been challenged by a changing marketplace increasingly dominated by online giants such as Amazon, but the increased pressure placed upon local brick-and-mortar booksellers by the ongoing pandemic is pushing some to the brink of closure.
Vroman’s Bookstore, which has been in Pasadena for 126 years, reached out to the community last month for support after announcing the pandemic had left it teetering on the edge of collapse.
Archives Books shut down early in the pandemic.
Founder and owner John Wipf said he had already been considering retirement upon turning 70 when the pandemic struck.
Had he not elected to shut down, “I can tell you, I would have gone under,” he said.
“I was in the process of retiring and then we had gone into March and I was able to get out of my lease, so I went for it,” he said. “And then, over probably the next week, everything closed up. People started taking this virus seriously.”
The pandemic has been hard on many businesses, he added.
“I can’t see how any small business isn’t taking a big hit,” Wipf said.
Long before anyone had heard of COVID-19, the bookselling industry was in a state of adapting to survive, Wipf said.
“I had to move twice. And I had to change how I did business,” he said. But in the end, “I’ve just been really fortunate for 40 years. I started in 1980 in Pasadena.”
The Battery Book & Music in Pasadena remains open, but owner Richard West said the past months have been a struggle.
“I applied for a loan. I also work an online business a little bit, so I was able to come into my store every day,” he said.
“Once they allowed us to open again with masks on… it’s been hellish at times. There was a couple of weeks, even just a couple of weeks ago, where I had just had a handful of customers.”
But he said he was confident his business wasn’t going anywhere soon.
“I’m not worried or panicked. I know we’re in it for the long haul,” West said.
“I’ve been in this business since ’91. I know that it has its ups and downs and you just have to kind of work with your landlord if you can,” he said. “And so far, they have been excellent, actually. And that really, really helps.”
Not being able to hold events at the store has also been a significant hindrance to business, West said. “That was part of my business. Those events brought people in.”
West said as a one-person operation, he feels better prepared to weather the pandemic than some other businesses.
“I think people who have employees, that’s a whole other story. I worry about my cohorts at Book Alley or at Vroman’s.
“It would be nice to go back to the old days, or just even a year ago,” West said. “But I get it. People are scared. SoI think once we get a vaccine, we’ll be OK.”