Warning: This post is peppered with relatively random memes. It will make sense at the end.
It’s been about a year since my last blog post. (It’s been a long year; I hope you’ll forgive me!) When I think back to a year ago, my first thought is of how little we knew at the time. I was sure when I reread that post none of it would be a true reflection of what was to come. I was surprised to see that most of it was spot on. Maybe not on the timeline I imagined, but over this last year, all those things I said we’d do (almost) were true.
I said we’d still get books to our customers, we’d engage kids in book clubs and help families when kids were remotely learning. We held book clubs in Spring, Summer, and currently this Spring. We couldn’t host remote kids last Spring, but we’ve had kids here every school day September to right now today. All those things that we thought we could help with when the pandemic first started were a vital part of our role in the community over this last year.
When I think about how it was all able to happen, the resounding answer in my head is community.
On one level, everything we chose to do was our response and commitment to serving our community. We thought – what does our community need? Books, educational resources, safe places for kids, ways to keep kids engaged in literacy and learning. The community needed it and we could provide it and have always seen that as our role.
On another level, the sense of community support for us and local stores and bookstores was huge. There were days were customers called or emailed an order or gave us their support and I literally got off the phone or read the email in tears. Not just at the relief that these orders would help the Treehouse stay afloat. (Though the fear and relief rollercoaster that we’ve all been on is no joke!) But more that the person behind the call was a customer we knew and someone who truly cared and made a choice to support us. Sometimes they were friends from the past all the way across the country, or a new customer down the street. But either way, they are part of our bookstore community now and their support meant everything.
The third level of community is one that is more behind the scenes and few people realize it exists. Though I’m sure some customers have heard me say “let me check with folks in my booksellers group” either for rare books or specialized info. There is a huge group of Indie Booksellers that truly was a lifesaver in so many ways.
We were all thrown into this new world and for any business to survive, flexibility, creativity, and problem-solving were key. But it was also a world of sudden isolation. (not an environment were flexibility and creativity necessarily flourish!) I was coming into the store by myself. Our doors were closed and my employees were at home. There were very few people to bounce ideas off of. This group of booksellers became a lifeline. We freely shared what was working, what we struggled with, and a fair share of funny stories and memes to keep each other’s spirits up. We traded books store to store to provide them to our customers when shipping from publishers had slowed down or things were out of stock. We helped find solutions and share our creative ideas to help one another.
As a group, this has been the atmosphere at our yearly conferences so the idea of working together was not new. And the online group already existed; it was not formed due to Covid. But the reliance and togetherness and necessity was suddenly thrust to a whole new level. It used to be a resource, one of many, and it became the go-to, everyday, can’t live without it. Kind of like daily coffee.
You’ve probably seen articles about the indie bookstore community. (My mom is good at keeping me informed and sending them all to me!) Obviously these jump out at me because it’s what I do. But I honestly feel that it’s been written about because it’s a community like no other. I could be wrong. But I don’t see another category of business that has done quite the same thing. All completely independent businesses (hence, independent bookstores), technically we could see each other as competitors. Yet, we work together as one and have support from groups like https://bookshop.org/shop/treehousebookshop or https://libro.fm/treehousebookshop that support independent bookstores as a whole. We, as individual owners also support and help each other. Perhaps it is united against a common enemy. (see https://www.indiebound.org/boxed-out-campaign). But it is also a mutual respect and a deep sense of community that binds us. And that is also what saved us. That, and some pretty humorous memes at just the right moment!