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In its first 93 years of operation, Manhattan’s Strand Bookstore never faced a mass layoff. Then the coronavirus pandemic hit New York.
“We have survived the Depression, multiple recessions, 9/11, even the rise of bookstore chains and e-books,” said Nancy Bass Wyden, owner of Strand. “March was the first time in our history that we were forced to lay off a single employee. “
Calling it “the most difficult decision I have ever had to make as a business owner,” Wyden noted that Strand had no other choice. The bookstore on Broadway and East 12th Street in the East Village – famous for gifting “18 miles of books” to generations of dedicated patrons – closed on March 16 out of caution for patrons and staff.
Additionally, Strand closed its warehouse for a while and indefinitely delayed the opening of a second bookstore along Columbus Avenue on the Upper West Side.
The voluntary shutdown came a week before New York State went on “PAUSE,” which ordered non-essential businesses to shut down. Like so many other small businesses closed in New York City, Strand suffered a significant financial blow and had to reinvent itself a bit to cover some of its losses.
Strand website launched 23 years ago, but has never been seen as the main source of income for the store. After the March shutdown, Wyden said, the company was quick to release an updated version of the site that allowed it to sell more books.
The online income has enabled Strand to rehire some of the 198 staff who have been made redundant, Wyden noted. But she admitted that the online operation is still not at the level of the traditional brick-and-mortar business.
“While this is definitely a step in the right direction, we are honestly not close enough to achieving our regular income,” Wyden said in an interview with amNewYork Metro. “The success of The Strand is rooted in the in-person retail experience, so moving our customers online has been a challenge. That being said, we’ve had great results so far, and I’m so grateful that our community has been so willing to proactively support us.
As they strive to bounce back, Strand doesn’t have to worry about a major hurdle small business owners face: rent. Wyden’s father, the late Fred Bass, purchased the building where the Strand flagship store is located in 1996. The Landmarks Preservation Commission made the structure a landmark in 2019, against Wyden’s objections.
Strand also received a loan under the Paycheck Protection Program, which “helped as much as possible,” Wyden said. The store’s goal is to rehire all 198 laid-off employees as soon as possible.
When and how these workers are rehired will depend on how the physical store reopens once New York City gets the green light to “reopen.” Wyden said the store will follow Governor Andrew Cuomo’s instructions once the PAUSE is lifted, and the store has already started to develop a strategy to keep customers and staff safe.
“We will all wear masks, gloves and make sure there is hand sanitizer everywhere. We will respect social distancing and implement additional cleaning measures, ”she added. “One thing we haven’t found yet is how we can allow our customers to freely roam our 18 miles of pounds and have unlimited time to get lost in the piles. “
At the end of the PAUSE, fear of the coronavirus will likely remain with many New Yorkers. Wyden believes that while many “will still be too worried to venture out” right away, over time, “people will want to join their community of book lovers and find the serenity of discovering new books at their local bookstores.” .
“New Yorkers like to stand out, not to fit in, so I’m hopeful they’ll keep the city’s quirky small businesses alive,” she added. “Businesses like ours are the fabric of our city, not chain stores. Outside of the tough times you always get the biggest bursts of creativity so hopefully New York bounces back. “