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Small Biz Saturday: Bookbound takes things ‘one book sale at a time’ during pandemic

Bookbound Bookstore is at 1729 Plymouth Rd in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Bookbound Bookstore is at 1729 Plymouth Rd in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Bookbound Bookstore)

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Ann Arbor’s independent Bookbound Bookstore is taking things “one book sale at a time” as it marks its seventh anniversary, according to owner Megan Blackshear.

Owned by Megan and her husband Peter, the bookstore closed the doors to its storefront before Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s March mandate and has kept them closed since.

But that doesn’t mean Bookbound hasn’t been doing business. The Blackshears have been taking orders from hungry Ann Arbor readers over the phone, through email and through their website.

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“We’re pretty old school,” Megan said. “We just had a basic, informational website but we never had an online store until February when a new store option for indie bookstores was launch called Bookshop.”

The new online store was bare-bones but Megan said it was perfect for small mom-and-pop stores, like Bookbound, and the timing couldn’t have been better. She said the online store is what got her business through the first months of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“We sold almost as many books online as we would have through the storefront,” Megan said. “I think people made a point of going out of their way to make sure to buy books.”

Piles of books ready for curbside service at Bookbound Bookstore.
Piles of books ready for curbside service at Bookbound Bookstore. (Bookbound Bookstore)

Now, book sales have evened out as more and more customers are coming to the bookstore’s storefront in the Courtyard Shops for their reading needs.

Although only Megan and Peter are allowed in the store, Bookbound Bookstore customers can still browse its selection of books from outside the store. The Blackshears talk with customers looking to browse and will bring a selection of books out for them to flip through. Curious readers can also take a look at books that have been put on display through Bookbound’s large front windows.

Peter added that some customers do call ahead, but they can also just show up at Bookbound and knock on the door. The Blackshears are happy to make recommendations and help customers pick out gifts or new books.

“It’s a little awkward but people are so patient and understanding,” Megan said. “It helps that we have a really loyal customer base, and they’re super patient.”

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Bookbound has had some new customers over the course of the pandemic, but it’s the bookstore’s loyal regulars who have been supporting it. Megan said it is that customer base that has helped them pay their rent and survive the pandemic. It also shows just how much Ann Arborites care about their local businesses.

“It really warms our hearts because we kind of thought that was the case, but now we really know that we are very much a neighborhood shop and our neighborhood wants us to stay,” she said. “So our goal is to make it through this, one book sale at a time.”

Bookbound owners Megan and Peter Blackshear.
Bookbound owners Megan and Peter Blackshear. (Bookbound Bookstore)

While some Bookbound customers lament browsing inside the independent bookstore, Peter said they understand why it’s currently off-limits and why the Blackshears have their protocols in place.

“We’ve had at least two or three people, maybe more, say that one of the reasons they feel comfortable doing business with us curbside is they think we’re maintaining very safe protocols, and they’re not really worried about us being a potential point of infection,” he said, adding that customers know how careful Megan and Peter are being.

The Blackshears rent their space and can’t make huge changes to the store to accommodate in-store shopping but Megan said that she’s been able to pay rent each month because of their loyal customers.

The bookstore owners said they have been incorporating customer feedback and try to be as flexible as possible. If the curbside times don’t work for a customer, they can accommodate different times on a case by case basis.

Since Bookbound opened in 2013, Megan and Peter have gotten to know their customers well. Peter said that in the early months of the pandemic, what customers read reflected current events, like political happenings, race in the U.S. and epidemiology. Now, readers are back to their usual preferences.

Megan noted that children’s book sales spiked at the beginning of the pandemic and that they’ve remained higher than normal.

The children's section of Bookbound.
The children's section of Bookbound. (Bookbound Bookstore)

Although its adult storytime and open mic night events were well-loved by the Ann Arbor community, Bookbound has put a hold on all of its events for now. While they are missed, Megan said she’s glad that Bookbound never relied on events to draw in customers and to sell books.

“Our old school, mom-and-pop thing is weirdly working for us right now,” she said.

“We were never a very event-driven store,” Peter added. “It was more of a browsing experience and interacting with us."

Aside from not having customers in the store, not too much else has changed in how the Blackshears operate Bookbound; however, there have been some supply chain issues, including delays from printers and carriers. This means that it has been taking longer than usual for books to arrive and the Blackshears can’t guarantee arrival times. That won’t stop Bookbound though, as Megan said they plan to start getting ready for the holiday season early.

To get their book-based needs met, Bookbound customers can utilize curbside services at the store from noon to 6 p.m., Tuesdays through Saturdays.

Direct deliveries can be arranged through the Bookbound website.

Bookbound is at 1729 Plymouth Rd.

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