DIARY OF A BOOKSTORE DURING COVID-19: Gramercy Books, Bexley, Ohio

The best way to serve you is by telling you to stay away.

On Monday, March 23rd, we announced that Gramercy Books would be closed to walk-in traffic, effective the next day. We applaud Ohio Governor Mike DeWine’s leadership to contain this virus; his latest "stay at home" order was not unexpected. We spent that day readying the store for closure and converting to a fully online business. The surge in online orders and supportive comments from the community has warmed our hearts. We miss our contact with our customers. We miss the opportunity to connect with the community at the ongoing book-related programs. But we are grateful that we can still serve you. The Gramercy bookselling team is filling book requests, taking calls, and finding new ways to connect and engage with our customers.

Books add to the fabric of our lives. During this time of social isolation, people are seeking out books now more than ever for escape, discovery, inspiration, and joy.

What follows is a diary of how COVID-19 has affected one locally owned, independent bookstore located just outside Columbus, Ohio, in the fastest growing city in the Midwest. I started keeping a diary, just to keep track of the day-to-day adjustments in this unfolding crisis. It now seems like a useful guide that reveals what one small business is doing to adapt to a pandemic.

Friday, March 13, 2:48 pm
Like so many other institutions and businesses, Gramercy Books sends out a notice to its customers about how we are addressing COVID-19, sharing those extra precautions we have taken to assure visitors of our sanitary environment to browse books and to kindly request those exhibiting any sign of sickness to stay home. We announce the cancellation of a large off-site event.

Monday, March 16, 11:55 am
At 9 pm the night prior, the CDC recommended there not be gatherings with more than 50 people for the next eight weeks. Gramercy Books decides to reduce any opportunity for gathering and it announces that it is cancelling all in-store events through May 10.

Tuesday, March 17, 11:52 am
To encourage online and phone ordering (and less in-store visits), we notify all customers through our e-newsletter that we are offering free shipping for orders over $25 through May 1.

Tuesday, March 17
Publishers Weekly reports that Amazon has informed publishers it has deprioritized book orders, and to expect longer delivery time, so it can meet the surge in demand for “household staples, medical supplies, and other high demand products.”

Thursday, March 19, 2:55 pm
After getting city approval for a designated parking space in front of the store and producing a sign noting curbside pickup, Gramercy Books announces this new service as an added convenience for customers, especially those fearful of being inside public spaces.  

Thursday, March 19
Publishers Weekly reports print unit sales falling 10% during the week ending March 14, due to the closing of physical bookstores nationwide. Only the juvenile nonfiction segment shows a gain, led by the education/reference/language area. Going against this trend, Gramercy Books sales remains fairly steady, thanks to its online sales tripling from the same time in 2019.

Friday, March 20, 12:37 pm
I post a blog on Gramercy’s website titled, “The Role of Booksellers During Covid-19.” While offering an update about our services, the message also recommends a variety of books, along with items to keep children learning at home and to encourage family activities. 

Saturday, March 21
As in-store traffic declines, store leadership begins discussing reduction of store hours.

Sunday, March 22
Ohio Governor Mike DeWine issues a stay at home order, effective at 11:59 pm on Monday, March 23rd, through 11:59, April 6th. Store leadership spends the afternoon and evening discussing staffing and operational plans going forward. The decision is made to retain full time staff with clear at-home responsibilities around fulfilling online orders, taking calls and requests, digitally communicating with customers, showcasing authors and books being launched, developing engagement ideas with followers, and planning for summer and fall when it is expected that business will resume. 

Monday, March 23, 2020, 1:32 pm: 
Store manager, Debbie Boggs, calls me as she drives home from Gramercy Books after a tough morning readying the bookstore for temporary closure, in compliance with Ohio’s necessary "stay at home" order. “It’s weird,” she says, struggling to find the right words. “I…I…It feels so weird, I feel sad. I didn’t think I’d feel so sad.” She shares that the entire staff worked in tandem calling every person who had a book on hold, asking them to pick up the book in-store or curbside, or we would ship it to them. An enormous pile of packaged books and sidelines sits at the door for the mailman by our 9 pm closing. Each staff member leaves the store knowing their new responsibilities. Gramercy Books is prepared to serve as a virtual bookstore for the many central Ohioans who love books. 

March 23, 1:42 pm:
I post another blog, this time announcing we are closed to in-store traffic and urging people to support Gramercy Books with online orders.

Monday, March 23, 2020, 6:17 pm:
We registered 28 website orders up through 6:00 pm, and a nearly equal number of heartfelt comments of gratitude and encouragement. My favorite: “Thank you for being a wonderful bookstore. It is an honor to support you during this time!”

Tuesday, March 24, 10:47 am: 
Customer response from Monday is extraordinary. It is inspiring and heartwarming. Our community is supporting us in an overwhelming way, and their comments are filled with love and appreciation. We are doing more online commerce than we had ever done before! 

Tuesday, March 24
An email from American Booksellers Association CEO Allison Hill states that our wholesale distributor, Ingram, is a little behind right now, but “not to worry as the company has hired temps and should be caught up by the weekend, working around the clock to keep the machine running. Their warehouses are all open and their stock levels are good; they have a four-week supply of hot titles and are still receiving books from publishers.”  

March 25
We begin a new Facebook and Instagram series today: First up is #StayAtHomeStack series, posting staff and customer photos of the books everyone is now reading. Ahead will be #BooksellersAtHome series, posting what Gramercy staff are doing to recharge and relax while working at home, and #ComfortInTheTimeOfCoronavirus series, posting staff picks to bring comfort in this time of uncertainty.

Thursday, March 26
We begin a new series for our e-newsletter called, "Meet The Author While Maintaining Social Distance.” I feature several of the authors whose events were cancelled on the day they would have appeared at Gramercy Books. Today's feature is TaraShea Nesbit. Her novel about the first Plymouth, Massachusetts murder, BEHELD, was an April INDIE NEXT pick. Coming up will be investigative journalist Jerry Mitchell and his extraordinary memoir, RACE AGAINST TIME: A REPORTER REOPENS THE UNSOLVED MURDER CASES OF THE CIVIL RIGHTS ERA, on March 30; poet extraordinaire William Evans and his powerful new collection, WE INHERIT WHAT THE FIRES LEFT, on April 9; and beloved “Comma Queen” Mary Norris and her second book, GREEK TO ME, on April 15.

Today, we also decided to resume curbside pickup, beginning Saturday, March 28. After checking state orders and contacting the governor’s office, we were assured that curbside pickup is allowed because we supply educational material for children, as well as products conducive to the mental health of those socially isolated at home. The service will be offered 10 am to 5 pm, seven days a week, with purchases made online or by phone, in compliance with state orders. 

Friday, March 27
Shelf talkers are recommendations in the form of small cards placed under specific books on shelves in the store and authored by Gramercy booksellers. Today, we launch online shelf talkers, another series for our e-newsletter and we are calling it “Comfort in the Time of Coronavirus.”

Today, we also finalized our in-store COVID-19 Safety Policy, which will be displayed in the store and shared with each employee.


I’m a big believer that the things that challenge us make us stronger. Whatever our business, we will all come back from this dreadful moment in time by working together, and by being nimble, creative, and resilient!

Please stay safe!


Written by Linda Kass

About the author: I began my career as a magazine writer and correspondent for regional and national publications and am now an assistant editor for Narrative, an online literary magazine. My debut novel, Tasa’s Song, was inspired by my mother’s early life in eastern Poland during the Second World War. My second historical novel, A Ritchie Boy, will be out this September. I am also the proud owner of Gramercy Books, serving all of central Ohio!

Learn more about me on my personal website.