LOGAN SQUARE — When the statewide stay at home order came down in March, Teresa Kirschbraun had to figure out a way to move her beloved book store, City Lit Books, online.
Kirschbraun said it proved to be “quite a process,” but within a week she was able to get the online system up and running thanks to the American Booksellers Association. Now, online book sales are flooding in.
Overall, sales are down 50 percent, and while that may seem dire on the surface, Kirschbraun said, “I think it’s amazing we are doing that well.”
Kirschbraun said they’ve been selling a lot of books online and hosting some very well-attended virtual book clubs and author events — and they’re thrilled about it.
“Even though it’s 50 percent, I feel great about that. We’re sustaining. I don’t know how long we can do that at 50 percent, but for now that’s great,” she said.
Typically the Cit Lit team orders books from distributors and publishers, stocks its shelves and sells the books to customers in the store. With the pandemic, City Lit is paying for books on a per book basis and getting them shipped to customers directly from the distributors and publishers themselves. The profit margin is about the same, Kirschbraun said.
Most of the online customers are regulars and people who live in the neighborhood, but some hail from other parts of the city and even other states, Kirschbraun said.
In addition to placing online orders, many people are buying gift cards to use at a later date.
“So many people are supporting us through book orders and gift certificate purchases. They are sending lovely notes of support. We have been overwhelmed with the generosity and thoughtfulness,” she said.
City Lit, which has called an old CTA building at 2523 N. Kedzie Boulevard home since 2012, received a loan through the federal’s government Paycheck Protection Program, which is another huge reason the book store is “hanging in there.”
“It’s huge because I was really trying to keep my staff employed. I don’t have any worries now that it won’t happen,” Kirschbraun said. City Lit has seven part-time employees.
But apart from the federal funding, Kirschbraun said she’s been blown away by the attendance at virtual book clubs and author events. She said 50 families typically show up for their story time event and about 30 families showed up for the virtual version.
“This community is so supportive of local businesses. The people who live here really understand what it takes and what it means that you have to support them to have them stay in the neighborhood,” she said.
Kirschbraun said they’ll offer curbside pickup once the new version of the stay at home order takes effect May 1, but they likely won’t stop selling books online anytime soon.
“We’ve been thinking a lot about how businesses will change and a lot of people are talking about how we’ll have a new normal. For a lot of people, [buying online] will be a great thing, now that we have it so finely tuned,” she said.
It’s also been interesting, she said, to observe how people are coping with the pandemic through what they choose to read.
Some are ordering scientific books about the plague and others are ordering light-hearted novels. The most popular books right now are the 1965 science fiction novel “Dune,” Rebecca Makkai’s “The Great Believers” and “The Glass Hotel” by Emily St. John Mandel, she said.
To buy books online or order a gift card, visit City Lit’s website.
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