It’s Been a Year

  • By Nicole Sullivan

It has been two weeks short of one year since I wrote this blog post while everything was shut down. Little did any of us know then what a long and tumultuous year was ahead of us. My learning curve this past year has been one of the steepest of my adult life. Not since opening BookBar in 2012-2013, when I set out to learn how to run a business, the nuts and bolts of the book industry, endless tax and labor laws, and more than I’d ever wanted to know about state and city codes have I learned so much in such a short period of time. While learning the ins and the outs of small business bookselling, something I failed to digest was how to be a good manager. Having been an employee for the previous twenty years, I simply applied what I’d learned from my managers and company owners to my own business. That seemed good enough and it was good enough for my generation – we of the self-sufficient, latch-key kids – where you show up for work, leave your personal life at the door, suck it up, and do your job. I carried this management style into my own business, regrettably. I’d put in all the work to figure out how to make the business work but not how to manage in the way I now wish I had.

I know I’m not alone in having taken a deep dive this past year into myself, my life, and my businesses. The shock of having the world turned upside down overnight, the intense fear of suddenly losing everything you’d worked harder for than you’ve ever worked for anything in your life, the heartbreak of seeing your children pulled out of school, away from friends and supports, worrying about their mental health. And your own. Because you were now not only working more than full-time to keep your business open, but also suddenly teaching your children from home, providing their sole source of companionship, figuring out 7th grade math; the hair-pulling frustration of a wholly incompetent administration that was just letting people die while being openly racist during a time of calls for racial justice and reform from every decent person in this country. The crushing grief and worry of it all made me rethink everything. When the world shut down, I was so burnt out already from burning the candle at both ends for a long time, not taking care of myself, and not spending enough time with my friends and family. Suddenly having that kind of time shifted the ground from underneath me and I swore to never go back to business as usual. If this type of work ethic was no longer tenable for me, then it wouldn’t be for our staff either. It was time to seek more meaning from life and work. It was time to dig deep into why I wanted to start this business in the first place.

When I wrote back in March about my re-commitment to making BookBar a community space with a deeper mission, we got to work on that goal. I’m proud to say that this past year, we’ve incorporated our charitable giving into our business model more fully. As of June 1st, 10% of all book sales are donated to BookGive, our non-profit association. 100% of our V.I.P. membership dues are also donated to BookGive. This has resulted in the donation of over 40,000 books to more than 70 Denver organizations in the past 12 months. We were also able to donate 4 Little Free Libraries to 4 Denver book deserts. This is the business I wanted it to be. But we can’t take care of our community without taking good care of our staff. So I’ve set out to learn a lot about managing more purposefully this year. Something I should have done from the very beginning. I apologize to any and all who endured my missteps along the way. Mistakes have been made, big lessons have been learned, times have changed, and it is on all of us leaders, managers, and business owners, to embark on this new post-Covid reality with a more kind, just, equitable, comfortable, safe, and supportive, work environment. The work and the learning continues because, if not thing else, we’ve all learned the hard way this year about what really matters and why.

This is one of the reasons we’ve remained closed since briefly re-opening over the holidays. Because we had the options of online sales and curbside pickups at our window, being open to the public felt like an unnecessary risk to our staff. Once it became increasingly likely that vaccinations would ramp up quickly, it seemed foolish to re-open after having made it this long and when all of our staff will likely be vaccinated (and insured!!) by April 1st. So that’s the news. We’ll re-open for browsing on April 6th (April 5th and every Monday for V.I.P. Members). Please stay tuned for how that will roll out, but, here’s the thing – we’ve almost made it! It’s been a year. It’s been a hell of a year. But we will get to see you soon. We cannot thank all of you enough who have stood by us and supported us this year. Thank you for your patience while we’ve been closed and huge thanks for buying so many books from a small business that didn’t come even a little bit close to doubling our profits during a pandemic like AMAZON did. And all the thanks in the universe to the staff, past and present, who have taught me so much through patience, tough love, and plenty of repetition. I owe this business to you.

And a special Women’s History Month message to all of my fellow Mom Entrepreneurs (because I hate the word Mompreneurs and don’t call me that):

You are enough. You are doing enough. Don’t let anybody tell you different.

Now kick your feet up, have a glass of wine, and read a good book.