For more than a decade, Vancouver resident Jack Allemang has occasionally slipped into Vintage Books on Mill Plain to pick up a book from the rows of wooden shelves, along the way talking to employees at the independent book store.
So amid the COVID-19 crisis, Allemang is happy to help keep it afloat by buying books over the phone and picking them up with curbside delivery.
“These are people that we care about,” said Allemang, 71. “They’re part of our community, and we certainly wouldn’t want to see them go anywhere.”
Vintage Books is among a handful of booksellers in Clark County that are still operating, although revenue is significantly down for most, including I Like Comics. Interstellar Overdrive in Hazel Dell is operating upon request but is shut down for the most part. Dickens Children’s Books in downtown Vancouver is actually seeing an uptick in business.
The booksellers have also shifted to curbside or home delivery to keep residents safe, and they said they’re overwhelmed with the support from the community during a tough time in business.
“We’re very grateful,” said Becky Milner, owner of Vintage Books at 6613 E. Mill Plain Blvd.”We’re doing a lot less business but a lot more work.”
Allemang ordered and picked up two copies of “Disappearing Earth” this week for him and his wife to read on Earth Day, he said.
“They see my little face at the door, and then I back away from the door,” he said. “They put it on a little table in a bag (outside), and they close the door, and I come and get it. It’s very simple.”
I Like Comics, at 1715 Broadway, is also offering curbside delivery during one of the toughest times the business has ever seen, said owner Chris Simons.
“We’re looking at 80 percent dip in revenue,” Simons said. “But we’re not going anywhere.”
Simons praised comic book readers for helping him keep the business open. That’s partly from customers who have a subscription service for new comic books but who aren’t getting their new comics because the books are on pause for the first time since the 1930s.
“New comics usually come out every week, so people are calling and asking us what else they can buy,” he said. “Saying that this is a heroic community is not an exaggeration.”
Simons said he’s building a greater online presence for I Like Comics during the virus outbreak. The store takes online and phone orders, and it offers curbside delivery too.
The one local bookstore that’s seeing an increase in business is Dickens Children’s Books and Publishing Lab at 1911 Main St. Suite A.
“January and February were so slow,” said owner Ruthie Prasil. “The week the coronavirus had an impact — that’s when our sales went crazy.”
Prasil said it’s mainly because parents are looking for ways to entertain kids.
“Workbooks and puzzles — I can’t get enough of them,” she said.
Dickens is getting orders by phone or online every day. Prasil said the children’s book store offers curbside delivery or home delivery for orders over $50.
Some of the success comes from Prasil’s social media presence, she said. She posts videos on Instagram of the books that are selling well.
“I post tons of stories throughout the day” she said. “People send me a message on Instagram asking to buy the book.”
She said that having the support of Vancouver shoppers “has been amazing.”
“They could have easily gone to Amazon,” she said. “I make sure to personally thank them.”
At Interstellar Overdrive, a science-fiction and fantasy bookstore at 7732 N.E. Hazel Dell Ave., owner Glenn Langnes decided to shut down for the most part because the bookstore isn’t an essential business. But if someone calls asking for a book, he’ll sell it to them and slip it through the door if they can pick it up.
“We’re using the time to get the store squared away,” he said, which includes rearranging the back room of the store. It also includes launching the store’s first online sales portal.
But in the meantime, bills for rent, insurance and utilities are eating away at the company’s savings.
“Once our backroom situation is over, we’re going to start selling online,” he said. “We’re going to sell collectibles, rare and signed books. The very second we can open, we will.”