Hundreds of local businesses have regularly lost income during the pandemic without their usual foot traffic, and the Harvard Book Store is one of them.
In an open letter to the community on Oct. 15, Harvard Bookstore owners Jeff Mayersohn and Linda Seamonson wrote that the bookstore was in financial difficulty, a common problem many independent bookstores in the United States now face.
“The imbalance between income and expenditure poses a threat to our continued existence,” they wrote. “Indeed, a number of our fellow Harvard Square merchants have closed for good, many of which have been around for decades. “
Mayersohn said in an interview that the bookstore has continued to lose money each month, despite spending not having fluctuated much. This is because the store has seen a significant drop in revenue.
Richard Huang is a stock associate for Harvard Book Store, and although he doesn’t work in person now, he said the store’s capacity is not what it used to be. Fewer people are buying brick and mortar.
“I have employee friends who actually work in the current store, and they tell me that more and more people are coming to the store because of the pandemic,” Huang said. “What I saw for sure.”
The challenges of social distancing prompted the Harvard Book Store, which was founded in 1932, to focus on e-commerce, Huang said.
“We don’t get so many orders in person anymore. It is still very dangerous during this pandemic, as cases are increasing, ”Huang said. “I have seen an evolution towards online orders. “
The customer experience has changed dramatically, Huang added, as shoppers now limit contact with employees and their time in the store.
“Usually it takes a long time for customers to go through everything, ask questions,” Huang said. “It’s now rushed, faster, where they come in, get what they want and go. “
Nonetheless, Mayersohn said that Harvard Book Store employees go to great lengths to optimize the shopping experience for customers who visit its physical location.
“We want to stay in business,” Mayersohn said, “but our top priority is to make sure we maintain a safe environment, both for our staff and our customers.”
Mayersohn said an employee was keeping the store occupancy limited and making sure customers were masked. The store also added plexiglass in areas where customers and employees interact.
For the upcoming holiday season, Mayersohn is offering people the opportunity to buy early, which would help revitalize the bookstore’s income. On Saturday, the bookstore will host another virtual warehouse sale as part of the “buy early and buy local” mission, according to the letter.
“I hope that by asking people to shop over a two and a half month period,” Mayersohn said, “it will generate a high level of sales so that we can continue next year.”
Despite potential financial concerns, Mayersohn said he was shocked at the support the store received from loyal customers: it received orders for thousands of pounds after the letter was published.
“It was very humbling and rewarding,” Mayersohn said. “The response has truly been overwhelming. “
Beyond selling books, Harvard Book Store also hopes to become a “cultural hub for the community,” Mayersohn said. The store hosts more than 400 in-store “author conversations” each year – the most recent being a virtual chat with Jack Halberstam on Wednesday.
“It’s a very serious commitment to keep the conversation going in the community,” Mayersohn said.
As the store operates as both a retailer and an educational community center in Cambridge, Mayersohn said, it also relies on personal interactions rather than algorithms to choose books for its customers, unlike the largest booksellers in line.
“We provide valuable customer service by connecting people with books that we think they’ll love,” Mayersohn said, “and also serving as a community center for the exchange of ideas.”