As the owners of Harvard Book Store, we are often asked these days how the store is doing. The truth is it’s been a difficult time.
Sales are down significantly compared to any period prior to the pandemic. While purchases on harvard.com are much higher than they were in the “before-times” and our periodic warehouse sales have been great successes, the reality is that nothing can replace a busy store on a Saturday afternoon or a packed event with a major writer. Despite the decline in revenue, expenses have increased. Not only have we retained all of our employees, but the necessity of maintaining a safe environment has created additional costs. We’ve hired additional staff to monitor occupancy and implement curbside pickup, and purchased protective equipment like plexiglass barriers, air purifiers, etc. Finally, we have continued our significant investment in author talks, hosting these (virtually) every weekday evening and on many afternoons, because we believe that, in this time of quarantine and social distancing, where critical societal issues have come to the fore, it is vitally important to keep the conversation going.
So, these are indeed challenging times for us and for all other brick-and-mortar businesses. The imbalance between revenue and expenses represents a threat to our continued existence. Indeed, a number of our fellow merchants in Harvard Square have permanently closed, including many that have existed for decades. What has kept us going is the loyalty of our many customers; the support of the writing community and of our landlord, Harvard University; cash reserves enhanced by a PPP loan; the commitment of our incomparable staff; and our conviction that cultural institutions like ours continue to play a vital role.
We are now entering the holiday shopping season. It is no secret that holiday sales help subsidize retail operations for the year. But this holiday season brings new challenges. With limits on store occupancy, we will not see a store bursting at the seams with last-minute holiday shoppers. Additionally, there is an apparent shortage of printing capacity in the United States, leading publishers to warn us that we cannot count on their ability to replenish supplies of “hot” titles late in the season. We are also faced with the anticipated disruption in mail service that threatens to wreak havoc on our ability to guarantee the delivery of web orders in time for holiday gift-giving. Finally, there is the risk of an acceleration of the COVID infection rate during the late fall and winter, potentially requiring that we close the store to customers and staff as we did at the beginning of the pandemic.
All of these factors have led us to expand and accelerate the traditional holiday retail calendar. Our annual holiday sale will take place in October (the 16th through the 18th) rather than in November, as will the introduction of our “Holiday Hundred” list of selected titles, discounted for the season. We will also commence our annual winter warehouse sale (taking place exclusively at hbswarehousesale.com) beginning on October 31st. So, we ask our community to please shop early and shop local, at our website and store, and at those of our neighbors.
Your patronage is something we don’t take lightly. We know that you have other choices for your book purchases, so we are particularly grateful when you choose Harvard Book Store. We strongly believe that stores like ours, based on the free exchange of ideas and the love of the written word, are vital to the cultural fabric of our city and nation. Your continued patronage helps secure the future of Harvard Book Store and the livelihoods of our wonderful staff, who have dedicated their careers to these ideals. We thank you for your support.
Jeff Mayersohn and Linda Seamonson
Owners, Harvard Book Store