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An unforeseen new chapter for local bookstores

Updated Wed., March 18, 3 p.m.: With a “shelter in place” order possibly coming soon, New Yorkers are going to need things to keep them occupied.

Thank God for books.

But getting great reading matter amid the pandemic is no longer as simple as walking into a bookshop and perusing the latest offerings on the tables.

Out of safety concerns, Three Lives & Company, at 154 W. 10th St., closed on Sunday — yet they will be delivering.

The store sent an e-mail to customers on Sunday laying out its game plan during the coronavirus outbreak.

“In thinking how best to protect our customers and booksellers, how best to be responsible and considerate members of our community, we have decided to take a proactive step and close the shop as of 5 p.m. today,” the e-mail said. 

“We will miss serving as a gathering place for the time being, but we think this is the right move to make right now. We will throw open our doors again as soon as circumstances allow. Please know that Three Lives and its staff are in good shape and look forward to welcoming you back before long.

“But the good news: You will not be cut off from books altogether! We will be manning the shop every day from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and will gladly take orders via phone (212-741-2069) or e-mail (info@threelives.com). You then are welcome to pick up your books curbside, or we are equally happy to deliver them if you live in the West Village or to send them to you via UPS Ground. 

“We will be placing orders every day, so if we do not have your desired title in stock, we will have it for you before long. And if you are well-stocked with books but would like to support the shop nonetheless, think: gift certificates (which we can mail or have ready for pickup)!”

Meanwhile, as of March 17, East Village Books, at 99 St. Mark’s Place, imposed a time limit of 15 minutes per customer inside the store. They will stop selling books inside the shop after March 19.

Similar to Three Lives & Company, McNally Jackson books, at 52 Prince St., was “closed for browsing but open for business.” They will bring books to your place or ship them to you, and are taking orders by e-mail and phone.

As of March 16, all locations of the Strand Bookstore, including its flagship outlet at 12th St. and Broadway, were closed. Online checkout was also suspended.

Hours have been changed slightly at the Barnes & Noble store at Union Square but it was still open. The company’s Web site noted that the 17th St. outlet’s hours “may be temporarily adjusted” for health and safety reasons.

A worker who answered the phone there Wednesday afternoon said the store’s regular hours of 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. have been cut back to 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

“It’s not booming,” she said of business.

Asked how sharply the amount of shoppers was down from the normal number, she said, “I can’t give you a percentage but it is very dead.”

Given that the store is Barnes & Noble’s largest — 62,000 square feet spread over four floors — it does at least offer shoppers ample space for social distancing.

On the other hand, owner Jim Drougas at the tiny Unoppressive Non-Imperialist Bargain Books, at 34 Carmine St., said his store has been closed since Tuesday.

“There was some discussion about selling certain books at the door for people who call,” he said. “The streets are dead so we realized there is no point.”

Local booksellers could become even more important if the virus pandemic drags on. Amazon — which accounts for 39 percent of all U.S. online orders — is now only replenishing its warehouses with essential items, including medical supplies and household staples. But the e-commerce giant is still delivering nonessentials while it has them.

However, if the decision is made to put the city “on lockdown,” only essential businesses would be allowed to remain open, such as groceries and pharmacies, plus possibly gas stations, banks and laundromats. 

Of course, books and bookstores are essential. Yet, it was still unknown if, in the case of a lockdown, book shops would continue to be allowed to deliver and have customers pick up orders, as bars and restaurants are now being allowed to do after they were ordered closed to patrons.

3 Comments

  1. Kathleen McGee Treat Kathleen McGee Treat March 18, 2020

    “Thank God for books” is spot-on! And for those of us who shamelessly have ordered from ABE Books now’s the time to stop that and call our local booksellers to show our support.

  2. Ron Kolm Ron Kolm March 18, 2020

    As far as bookstores go, Posman Books is pretty much totally closed. Our last day in Chelsea Market was this past Monday, March 16th. We had shortened our hours to close at seven instead of nine, but we were told by the Market that it would be totally closed the next day, Tuesday, so that was it. Most all of the food stores had already closed, or closed early on Monday. The staff was let go, which is a real drag, but given what’s going on, understandable, I guess. As far as I know, our other store, in Rockefeller Center, is closed too. We are trying to start a go-fund-me campaign, much like the McNally Jackson one. Please, everyone, keep buying and reading books whenever and wherever you can! Thank you.

    • ttaylor ttaylor November 26, 2020

      kolm online? whoopee! is the store in chelsea market open? how about d.b.a. on 1st ave near second?? for an english draught from a tall english pump? we live in new haven, now. would like to pop down whenever YOU say the word. you’re the archivist for us or anybody for where there is to go.

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