BookBar was built on a vision of our community socializing through literature and a common love of books and reading. That has been our business model for the past seven years. We’ve witnessed countless touching moments of collaborations, partnerships, friendships, and, yes, even romances forming while we’ve moved about the store, topping off glasses of wine and handing our favorite reads to our friends and soon to be friends as if we were whispering a well-kept secret that felt like a gift. We have provided space, book recommendations, and shareable small plates for thousands of book clubs. We have all made so many friends – with our customers, authors, other booksellers, other business owners, community leaders, teachers. Seeing some of our regular customers become close friends with one another and gathering around ‘table 1 & 2’ everyday made coming to work even more fulfilling. We’ve hosted 3 weddings, dozens of baby showers, wedding showers, graduation and retirement parties, and of course birthday parties. All of these events were planned with kindred spirits, the kind of people who want nothing more than to mark an important milestone in their lives, surrounded by books and book people.
In a demographic that is notoriously introverted, we all found each other and became social in our way. Books never became a backdrop but continued to be, if not always the centerpiece of conversation, a subject that we always inevitably turned to no matter the topic of conversation because those of us who read can take solace in the fact that no matter what we may be thinking, feeling, or experiencing, some author out there has already dreamed it up. Books are our life map and our goal posts which makes us, as readers, luckier and more prepared than anyone else. I’m more convinced now than ever that readers have an advantage over everyone else. But it’s not an exclusive club. Membership is wide open all the time. As we all experience so much disruption to our daily lives and routines, readers are the resilient ones who can continue to hone our passion and transform ourselves outside of our increasingly constricted boundaries. We are one of the few who can continue to do what we’ve always done – only now with more time for it.
But it is the social aspect of our book passion that we are missing. Like nearly all other businesses, BookBar was required to pivot nearly overnight to a new business model that we’d never anticipated. Or wanted. When we switched over to to-go and delivery options on March 17th, we had a blast selling and providing book recommendations through our front window. But our staff was scared. They needed to be home with their families and so did I. With 2 middle school aged children, one of whom has special needs and requires constant care, I was needed at home more than ever. So we made a decision a couple of days later to close the store, send everyone home on paid leave through April, and operate online only. It was the right decision for me, my family, our staff, their families, and our communities. And we are killing it. I have been so impressed (but not surprised) by the passion and creativity of our employees. We continue to communicate with one another throughout the day every day. And we continue to find ways to recommend books to anyone who wants them. I actually caught myself handselling to my own family the other day as I was unpacking book boxes from our recent move. As I remarked on social media: “you can take the bookseller out of the bookstore but you can’t take the bookstore out of the bookseller.”
Our community has, of course, responded to our sudden and necessary pivot as they do in every situation: with love, kindness, support and boundless encouragement. We have been flooded with online orders, often with messages in the notes. We created a Slack channel where we can share these with all of our staff and I’d like to share some of my favorites with you because it is what keeps us going:
“Thanks for working hard during such a difficult time!”
“Let us know how we can help you. Thank you for all you are doing! No rush on this order, we just wanted to support you guys!”
“Thank you for everything you do for this community. I know times are tough right now… Sending all the love.”
“I don’t need any particular books right now but want you guys to survive the next few months. Be well!”
“I love BookBar! I’m paying it forward so I can buy a book later!”
“You are what makes our neighborhood so great.”
“Can’t wait to be back in the shop with my book club when all this is over”
“Thanks for providing us with essential material in these odd times!”
I’m not crying! You’re crying. O.k. We’re all crying. While we are so grateful for all of the orders and support, our community is why we do what we do. We were never meant to sit in front of a computer all day, doing data entry. But that is what the business requires of us right now and it is certainly what our community requires of us right now so that is what we will do as long as we need. Like many of you, I’m sure, I’ve gone back and forth thinking about the future and then reminding myself that it is nearly impossible to think about the future right now. It is incredible to say at the end of March but – we have very little idea of what May will look like. We have no idea what the future of bookselling will look like. We have no idea what the future of BookBar will look like. Really, the only certainty right now is that everything will change.
BookBar is uniquely positioned among small businesses because we own our own building. Very luckily, we are not beholden to a landlord or facing any back payments in rent. In fact, we are taking this opportunity to finally replace our roof that was badly damaged in at least one of Denver’s notorious hail storms (just one of the tragedies that seems so quaint now in retrospect). We are plotting next steps in our long planned construction of our event space behind our patio. It seems like a good time to undertake a major construction project since we are closed and our economy needs every bit of stimulus it can get so long as construction is still allowed. But maybe I’m crazy. Of course I’m crazy! You have to be crazy to open a small business even during the best of times. You have to be even crazier to think about the future of your small business during such a crisis as this. Yet… it is what we do. Because books are necessary. Stories make us human and are one of the essential ingredients of life that we need now more than anything to sustain us, to prop us up and give us hope, to give us a window into history (it has been worse, folks, and perhaps there is comfort in that?)
My husband remarked that he envisions BookBar’s future like a phoenix rising from the ashes. He is the son of a poet after all. I’ve gotten used to the absolute joys of spending more time (MUCH more time) at home with my family, reading with my children, cooking, catching up on deliciously crappy t.v. (shout out to Tiger King), running, and reading, reading, reading. Oddly, this is closer to the work-life balance I’ve been seeking these past seven years. So I envision BookBar’s future to be the kind of business that allows me and all of our employees more work-life balance. I envision more of a shift to incorporating our non-profit, BookGive, into our business model because purchasing with purpose will be more important than ever. I envision more of an emphasis on offering community spaces for people to gather with one another, as foreign as that may seem even now, just a couple of months into this new reality. But, my God, will we need it. Mostly I envision never ever taking our community for granted. It is what I miss most right now.