Bookstores are not officially "essential" businesses in a pandemic — or so Gov. Phil Scott declared when he handed down his stay-at-home order on March 24.
What Vermonters are reading
According to Elizabeth Bluemle of Flying Pig: "Most people are asking for either real-life inspiring stories of strength and resilience or total escape reads. They also want puzzles!"
- Chris Bohjahlian, The Red Lotus: A Novel
- Emily St. John Mandel, Station Eleven, a 2014 novel about a post-pandemic America, and her new novel The Glass Hotel
- Julia Alvarez, Afterlife
- Erik Larson, The Splendid and the Vile
- Melissa Clark Dinner in French: My Recipes by Way of France: A Cookbook
But locally owned, independent bookstores play a vital role in communities across Vermont. Not only do they sell books — gateways to learning, adventure and escape — they're also gathering places. They contribute to cultural life by hosting readings and author events. Some offer cafés and cozy chairs. They often sell cards and other items that make thoughtful gifts.
And bookstores are local businesses. They employ people. They pay taxes. They contribute to the local economy.
Like many small businesses, Vermont's indie bookstores are now struggling to survive. They've been battling Amazon and big-chain booksellers for at least 25 years. They've endured in part because of their brick-and-mortar stores — which at a time of social distancing are off-limits.
So bookstore owners and managers have had to get creative. Read on for a roundup of how some of Vermont's indie shops have adapted to a changing reality. And the next time you're tempted to order a book on Amazon, buy it locally instead!
Burlington, Essex, Rutland — phoenixbooks.biz
Phone and online orders, curbside pickup, free domestic shipping
A $30 annual membership in the Phoenix Book Club includes store discounts.
Though bookstores are not deemed "essential," Phoenix Burlington manager Tod Gross said the coronavirus crisis has shown him how much the store means to the communities it serves. He's seeing lots of regular clientele, as well as new ones who are eager to buy local. And the customers are grateful — especially ones with young children. "I can see we're essential to families who have kids at home right now," Gross said.
Gross loves helping customers find just the right book. He noted that algorithms and search engines can reveal what other people bought, but they're not good at making personalized recommendations. "That's hard to replicate online," he said.
Also hard to replicate: local business owners who care about the community and their employees. Gross pointed out that the owners of Phoenix Books gave the staff an additional four weeks of paid vacation to get through this crisis. "Compare that with what Amazon is doing with their employees," he said.
The Seattle-based company has come under fire for its rates of injuries among warehouse workers, and it's currently being investigated by the National Labor Relations Board for allegedly violating employees' rights to unionize.
"Really what you're doing when you're buying local," Gross said, "is that you're helping your neighbors out."
Waterbury — bookshop.org/shop/bridgesidebooksvt
Phone and online orders, shipping, curbside pickup and local delivery
Owner Hiata Corduan laid off her staff in March and has since become a one-woman recommendation engine. "I have texted and emailed photos of books/puzzles/stationery, and chosen birthday, baby and quarantine gifts for friends and customers who have trusted me with these careful choices," she wrote in an email.
Corduan has even set up the front windows of her store for "window shopping," assisting customers by holding up puzzles, books and games to show what's available. "Vanna White comes to mind," she said.
She has applied for an SBA Emergency Disaster Loan application. Still, Corduan is shrinking the size of her store to reduce overhead. "My landlord has been supportive and easy to work with in this project," she said. "Fingers crossed for the SBA loan!"
Burlington — crowbooks.com
Online orders, free shipping
The only bookstore on the Church Street Marketplace is temporarily closed to the public, but manager Jackie Hoy said she's seen an increase in online orders over the past few weeks. Most in demand: "kids' books and cookbooks, particularly bread-making books."
Flying Pig Bookstore
Shelburne — flyingpigbooks.com
Phone and online orders, shipping, curbside pickup, and free deliveries from Charlotte to Burlington
Flying Pig might be the only bookstore in Vermont with a drive-through window. Owner Elizabeth Bluemle appears in a short Facebook video touting the service, to the tune of Melissa Etheridge's "Come to My Window."
"We have been operating at a sprint ever since the pandemic hit," Bluemle wrote in an email. "It was incredible how many changes we made to our procedures, and how quickly. Like every business, we have been pretzeling ourselves to find best practices to keep our employees safe, keep the business sustainable, and support our customers."
The store's website has seen a "huge surge" in orders, and a second website was set up through the indie-supporting startup Bookshop.org, primarily for out-of-state customers.
Hardwick — galaxybookshop.com
Phone and online orders, shipping and curbside pickup
"Pivoting from operating as a Main Street retailer to becoming a mail-order business has been challenging," co-owner Sandy Scott wrote in an email, "but it's forcing us to think creatively about how we reach out to our customers."
Scott is now posting book recommendation videos on Facebook and Instagram and has created a virtual tour that allows people to "walk" through the store.
Galaxy has been part of Hardwick for more than 31 years. It supports the community by donating to fundraisers and by working with teachers and librarians to encourage the love of reading. "We are one of Hardwick's anchor businesses," Scott said.
Bear Pond Books
Montpelier — bearpondbooks.com
Online orders only, back-door pickup, free shipping on orders more than $20, Montpelier delivery
Support the store by purchasing a "Stay Home Read Books" Bear Pond hoodie for $39.99. Orders due May 1.
Co-owner Claire Benedict reports that business has been good. "Not like if we were open, but we're keeping busy," she wrote in an email. Bear Pond recently introduced a new service for young readers called Discovery Boxes. "Buy one for your favorite kid, and we'll send a surprise box of books and activities to keep them busy," she said.
Boxcar & Caboose Bookstore & Café
St. Johnsbury — boxcarandcaboose.com
Phone and online orders, shipping, and curbside pickup
Buy a $100 gift certificate and the store will donate $15 to the Northeast Kingdom Community Action food shelf
Owners Scott and Joelle Beck are no longer serving up espresso, but they're fulfilling orders for books, cards and games. They're happy to make recommendations, too. Scott said they're selling a lot of fiction and children's books.
"At some point," he said, "we're going to get to the other side of this." And if Vermonters value their indie bookstores, he added, they should support those stores now to insure their survival.
How can you help local businesses?
Restaurants, retailers and other businesses play a vital role in our community, and right now, they’re struggling. It's time to #SaveLocalVT.
Order from a local restaurant. Find Vermont restaurants offering takeout, delivery and curbside service at Seven Days’ new directory: goodtogovermont.com.
Buy a gift card or a hoodie. As a fundraiser for the store, Bear Pond Books is selling hooded sweatshirts that say, "Stay Home, Read Books."
Shop local online. Some Vermont retailers are still fulfilling orders through their websites and even offering discounts on in-state delivery.
Call a local store to get the latest info. Don’t just rely on online information or social media — pick up the phone. During the coronavirus chaos, many small businesses don’t have time to update their websites.
Pay a little extra to support a local retailer. Consider it an investment in your community. Think you found a better deal on Amazon? Ask yourself: When was the last time Amazon donated to local charities or sponsored local events?
What are you doing to break the Amazon habit?
Share your story about buying local on social media with the hashtag #SaveLocalVT or fill out the form below. You’ll be entered to win a gift card to a local restaurant or store — extra credit for creativity! Dazzle us, and we’ll publish your contributions to inspire your neighbors.