Sam Baker and Natalie Latter run this store focusing on representing diversity, complete with bedroom and playroom out the back for their small daughter so they can juggle parenting and working.
Usually a great system, the family was put to the test when the pandemic hit, and they began a free home delivery service, but quickly discovered this would triple their workload.
But the time they’d put into creating a haven for Perth’s minority groups through book clubs and events paid off, and they soon had a long list of people who had lost their jobs and wanted to help.
Even with 12 volunteer drivers, the additional labour was immense: processing online sales, helping people browse virtually through videos, hand-selling every book through recommendations via phone, chat or email. Each worked 15 hours, seven days a week, for six weeks, while trying to keep an eye on their toddler.
Luckily their volunteers went even further, bringing them meals, and their delivery customers raised their spirits by leaving thank-yous on doorsteps: childrens’ drawings, bags of mandarins, bottles of wine.
“Part of what gave us the courage to adapt so quickly was as soon as it became clear small businesses were going to struggle, people came immediately wanting to buy things,” Ms Latter said.
“It became clear that for people staying home with their kids they needed books.
“And people living by themselves, who needed ways of connecting with the world.
“We had so many people coming and messaging us saying, ‘I haven’t read a book in years but now is the time, so what can you recommend?’
“We really felt the weight of those recommendations – like, ‘this is it’.”
Beaufort Street Books, Mount Lawley
Jane Seaton is the powerhouse behind Beaufort Street Books, who with her staff usually facilitates five evening book clubs, one daytime, a cookbook club (read, cook, bring, share) and no less than seven children’s clubs as well as community sausage sizzles.
All clubs usually run instore, so a shift online was daunting. But Ms Seaton and her staff gained the skills and a staffer facilitated all groups on-screen, while Ms Seaton was run off her feet every day with a new free local delivery service.
Publisher sales representatives donated boxes of advance ‘proof’ copies of soon-to-be released titles, which Ms Seaton gift-wrapped and gave as bonuses with her deliveries, trying to match the book to the customer, only asking they post a review on social media.
As well bring smiles to customers, she said, it helped publishers and authors win back some of the buzz and exposure launches and events usually generated, but which had been cancelled or delayed.
There were unexpected benefits: busy parents from a local school contacted Ms Seaton saying they’d never been able to attend a real-life book club but now saw their chance. They’ve started a new permanent Zoom book club they can attend from the couch, at 8.15pm, after putting children to bed.
“Our community has been absolutely lovely,” Ms Seaton said.
“The number of phone calls and comments: ‘Are you OK, we don’t want you going anywhere’ … it’s made people realise the value of what is in their local community.”
Diabolik Books and Records, Mount Hawthorn
When the pandemic hit, owner Scott Jones had tough decisions to make: let staff go, and reduce trading hours so he could manage with only one employee.
They began free deliveries within a 3-kilometre radius, and despite never having had an online shop, set one up using social media. Phone ringing off the hook, they helped people choose gifts for loved ones, wrapped the gifts, took dictation for cards and mailed the gifts off to their recipients across Australia.
A publisher sent a box of free children’s books, and Mr Jones got his customers to nominate as recipients any friends who were frontline healthcare workers with children.
He hand-delivered to their homes – “that wasn’t limited to a 3k radius, I can tell you now,” he said.
Readers also shared pictures of their purchases on social media feeds to encourage “buying local”.
“We were forever getting thanked for being open, and people would tell us they were recommending us,” Mr Jones said.
“People who were obviously used to buying things online from overseas came and bought … we just want to keep them when we get back to normal.”
Crow Books, Victoria Park, and New Edition, Fremantle
Both of Alan Sheardown’s bookstores usually depend on restaurant strip foot traffic, so he knew he would have to adjust quickly.
Normally staying open until 9-10pm, he began closing at 7pm and pouring time instead into free deliveries.
His staff and his wife would do runs close to the shops, and Mr Sheardown, on the road between the two, would drive to the further-flung suburbs.
Readers gave social media shout-outs, and the Vic Park Collective and Freo Massive groups included them in calls to “shop local”.
“Both Vic Park and Fremantle are quite community-minded and both bookshops belong to those communities as much as me,” Mr Sheardown said.
“I feel all the genuine work we’ve done in being the bookshop for these communities has paid dividends, in that people felt committed to it and bought books from us when there were other options.
“We were lucky too, in that our product was perfect for the times we were all living through.”
Now you feel like reading something? Rabble’s top sellers during the shutdown might inspire:
- Bluey activity books
- Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo
- Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid
- Phosphorescence: On awe, wonder and things that sustain you when the world goes dark by Julia Baird (Australian author)
- Backyard Birds by Helen Milroy (WA author)
- The Good Turn by Dervla MacTiernan (WA author)
- Extraordinary Things to Cut Out and Collage by Maria Rivans
- Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe (WA publisher)
Emma Young covers breaking news with a focus on science and environment, health and social justice for WAtoday.