Utah bookstore owners urge shopping local

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A customer takes a look inside of a book at Pioneer Book. Many independent bookstore owners feel it is more important than ever to shop at local stores. (Kaelin Hagen)

Bookstores across Utah and Salt Lake County have faced struggles in maintaining a steady flow of business because of COVID-19.

Scott Glen, the general manager of Pioneer Book, said at the start of the pandemic, most independent bookstores had to completely close their doors, not knowing when they could open them again. He said they had to transform into an online business.

Anne Holman, the general manager of The King’s English Bookshop, said when the shop had to close its doors, it also started doing a much more robust online business.

“We worked hard to drive people to our website and educate them about how to shop with us online,” Holman said. “We were still doing everything we could to remind our customers that we were here, and just because they maybe couldn’t come in, we would do everything we could to make sure they got their books.”

Now that stores are completely open, bookstore managers are urging people to shop local to support the community.

“Supporting your local bookshops, especially now, is not just supporting the stores but it’s supporting the people who work in the stores. Your neighbors and friends and family,” Holman said. “And it’s more important than ever that we all support each other and get through this together.”

Ken Sanders, the owner of Ken Sanders Rare Books in Salt Lake City, said he believes shopping local is essential to creating a special feeling in cities where people live, and that cities and towns are made great by the shops in them.  

“What makes cities and towns unique?” Sanders asked. “Is it chain department stores, or is it little, tiny, independent bodegas and restaurants and bookstores and cool shops that are local where the money stays local?”

Sanders continued and said that if people want their local shops closed for good, all they have to do is continue to shop with the big corporations.

“You’ll ensure that in another decade, small independent shops will be gone. Because if you don’t support them, they’re going to go away,” he said.

A man adjusts the sign of Pioneer Book on Center Street in Provo. Pioneer Book is one of the stores that faced unique challenges because of the pandemic. (Kaelin Hagen)

The pandemic has also inspired bookstores to get creative and do some good. Dan Cullen, the senior strategy officer of the American Booksellers Association said many bookstores found new ways to get their community involved. For example, Pioneer Book allowed its customers to donate their in-store credit to a program that helps kids get into reading, Glen said.

Additional ways bookstores got their communities involved was through Instagram Live story times for kids, Zoom debut author interviews and Facebook Live book group meetings. “This programming has continued for many stores as their communities have opened up and in-store browsing, events and shopping have returned,” Cullen said.

While the pandemic has offered many challenges to independent bookstores, Cullen said there is a lot of energy and community support surrounding local shops.

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