Independent booksellers in Victoria are getting on their bikes and taking out their ‘bookmobiles’ to deliver purchases for free to readers who are in isolation at home due to the ongoing spread of COVID-19.
As Victoria officially enters a state of emergency, for some of these business owners, it’s one small way they can support those in their local communities who may not be able to venture outdoors — and who may be looking for ways to pass the time.
But for other bookshop owners, it is quite simply a way to encourage shoppers to continue buying books, and keep their businesses open.
Melbourne bookstore Brunswick Bound is offering free delivery to readers in their surrounding suburbs, while specialty children’s bookstore Squishy Minnie — which has made the decision to temporarily close its physical store — is offering free local delivery in the Macedon Ranges.
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“Strange times are here”
Deb Force has operated The Sun Bookshop in the Melbourne suburb of Yarraville for almost 22 years, and it’s sister store, The Younger Sun, for close to 13 years.
At the end of last week, her team told readers via social media they would deliver books for free to anyone in Yarraville, Kingsville and Seddon.
Customers can pay for their purchase over the phone, and then Force’s staff will personally deliver their purchase that day, or the next day if the order is placed after 2pm.
Books will be dropped in shoppers’ letterboxes or on their doorsteps, and then the buyer will receive a text message to say the book is waiting for them.
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We are currently offering free local delivery for customers in the Kingsville, Seddon and Yarraville area who are medically isolated, self isolated, or are choosing not to venture out in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak. If an order is placed before 2pm via our online store, or over the phone, and the book is in stock, we will deliver it to you SAME DAY, for free. If an order is placed after 2pm and the book is in stock, we will deliver it to you the FOLLOWING DAY for free. Please select Click&Collect as your shipping method at checkout and include “Isolation Delivery Required” in the notes section We will place your order either in your letter box or at your front door, and you will receive a text message to advise you that your order has been delivered. Please ensure that your mobile number and the delivery address are correctly entered at checkout. ***Edit – we will also deliver to Spotswood and Newport for free, however it will be next day delivery for all orders in those areas*** http://shop.sunbookshop.com (03) 9689 0661 email@example.com #sunbookshop #shoplocal #supportlocal #innerwestmelbourne
Speaking to SmartCompany, Force says many of the stores’ customers have praised the idea, and a handful have taken up the offer.
But Force admits she was “not being completely altruistic” when she thought to offer her customers home delivery.
“I was envisaging a time quite soon where lots of people are in isolation and need to read,” she says.
“I thought it could be a way for the shop to keep taking a little money and help keep my staff employed.”
Force has not set a timeframe for how long the stores will offer home delivery, given the level of uncertainty facing individuals and businesses.
“We will keep doing deliveries until things are more normal; strange times are here and everything needs to be flexible,” says Force.
“Creative, nimble and determined”
Fellow independent bookseller Leesa Lambert says she has been considering offering free local delivery from her two bookshops for some time, and bought forward the service to “look after folk you can’t come out or are social distancing by staying at home”.
Lambert has been operating well-known children’s bookshop The Little Bookroom in North Carlton for 12 years — although the shop itself will be celebrating its 60th birthday this October — and opened general bookstore, Neighbourhood Books in Northcote in June 2018.
The stores started offering free local delivery last week and Lambert says she is now even considering adding more suburbs to the catchment area given the take-up by locals.
She also intends to offer the service now permanently, although the stores will respond to demand.
“We’ll probably scale back from daily deliveries to weekly deliveries,” she tells SmartCompany.
Both of Lambert’s businesses, which she owns and operates with her parents, are located in thriving local communities, filled with other small retailers and businesses, and this is no doubt one of the reasons she says she and her “creative, nimble and determined” team are “optimistic” they can meet the challenge presented by the coronavirus.
“I don’t think a more supportive community than ours exists,” she says.
“That includes readers, creators and publishers. Losing our revenue stream from events is going to be very painful, and we will miss our celebratory gatherings a lot. So we’re working on other strategies to keep everyone connected.”
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We are open. But if you can’t venture out, we can come to you. Commencing tomorrow, Tuesday March 17, the bookmobile will hit the road at 3pm daily. Books delivered to your door. : FREE LOCAL DELIVERY: ????Carlton and Carlton North ???? Fitzroy and Fitzroy North ???? Princes Hill ???? Clifton Hill ???? Brunswick (all of it) ???? Northcote : ▪️Head to our website: www.littlebookroom.com.au ▪️Choose your books ▪️Select ‘Free Local Delivery’ : You can phone us too: 03 9387 9837 : Reading is essential, and will help us get through this crisis. Stay kind, and keep connected. X
‘My casuals will suffer the most’
Over in Yarraville, Force also says people in the local community are “amazing and will support local business”. However, she knows many will soon have a choice to make and their decisions may not work in her favour.
“I also think if this drags on, buy a book, get a haircut, buy a new dress, or buy some food [and] pay the rent? I know where the money will be heading,” says Force.
Force admits she is “very scared” about the future of her business and how she will continue to support her 14 employees, most of whom are casuals.
“I think there should be help for casual employees’ wages as things get worse,” Force says, when asked what government stimulus measures would actually help her business.
“I have had to change my shop hours, and although trading okay at the moment, I know things are on a downhill slide,” she says.
“My casuals are the people who will suffer the most.
“They are all living week-to-week and I will try and keep some money going to them, but my business is also in a very precarious state.”
Lambert too is focused on supporting her six employees and wants “support to keep my casual staff employed, and reassurance that there will be a safety net for them if they can no longer come in to work”.
“I would also like some guidance about best retail practise in these times of social distancing,” she says.
The ongoing spread of the coronavirus is just about all anyone is talking about when they visit her stores, Force says, and there’s a general sense among these shoppers that the federal government is not handling the effects of the pandemic in an appropriate way.
“They are a bit happier with the Victorian government,” she says.
“Readers are also the types of people who are listening to [ABC broadcaster] Dr Norman Swan and feeling that greater isolation rules are needed.”