Bookstores are suffering during the COVID-19 epidemic, with many forced to temporarily close their physical locations. Barnes & Noble shops remain open (except in locations closed by public order), but CEO James Daunt warns his employees that changes are coming, with plans for “substantial reductions in cost,” including cuts of personnel already underway at the home office. He says sales continue well, especially online, but, “We have to assume that this is going to go on for a while, and that it is going to be a lot worse than it is now.” He seems to view closures and layoffs as inevitable, and says “when a store is closed, employees will first make use of their Paid Time Off. When this is exhausted, we will pay employees with one or more years of service for up to two weeks based on their weekly standard hours. Temporarily, and with sincere regret, on closure we lay off all those employees impacted with less than six months employment on the day of closure…. This is a devastating situation in which to find ourselves and we understand the personal impacts of such action.” Daunt announced plans to close all 280 branches of Waterstones, the bookseller he runs in the UK, effective March 23, 2020. Most of the staff furloughed without pay, though the UK government is expected to cover much of their lost wages.
Powell’s Books in Portland OR announced temporary layoffs in mid-March, letting go about 85% of their nearly 600 employees. HR director Michelle Afroso said, “if sales continue to decrease in the future, we will need to take further action. We will try to avoid additional layoffs by reducing the size of the company over time through a hiring freeze and attrition.” The store expects it to take several months for normal operations to resume, and indicated that some of the layoffs would be permanent. About 400 members of Powell’s staff are unionized (part of ILWU Local 5), and the union said, “As with most emergencies, those that suffer the most are workers and marginalized communities. We do not believe this to be appropriate or fair and in this moment we continue to urge all Employers, including Powell’s Books, to continue to support workers in any and every way possible.” Owner Emily Powell says, “I am doing everything within my power to keep Powell’s alive,” but notes, “We run on duct tape and twine on a daily basis, every day trading funds from one pocket to patch the hole in another.” Powell’s is still shipping books online: <www.powells.com>.
McNally Jackson in New York also closed its stores and laid off much of its staff in mid-March, with reports that about 80 people were let go, “to be hired back at an indeterminate date.” They will keep health care for the rest of the month. The store says, “We are paying staff for the week. Beyond that, facing down a massive, unprecedented loss in revenue, in consultation with union we have laid off employees until the store is able to reopen.” They are fulfilling phone and web orders. <www.mcnallyjackson.com>.
Books-a-Million remains open, but is offering curbside pick-up of books at most locations. Half-Price Books has temporarily closed all its stores to the public, but also offers curbside pickup. The Tattered Cover bookshops in Denver CO has put most of their 100-plus employees on unpaid leave (which at least lets them keep their health insurance), while keeping on a “skeleton crew” to fulfill orders online; they also offer curbside pick-ups. The 21 brick-and-mortar Amazon Books stores have all temporarily closed.
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