Farmington bookstore owner finds new way to reach customers during coronavirus shutdown
Amy's Bookcase offers popular 'pandemic packs'
FARMINGTON — Bookstores are, by their nature, the kind of places where people like to spend quite a bit of time just wandering the aisles, Amy Henkenius says.
"So many people here are just shopping and don't know what they want," said the owner of Amy's Bookcase, located at 2530 San Juan Blvd., which marked its 40th year in business on April 1. "We're a used book store, and that's what people do."
Well, it's what they used to do before the coronavirus pandemic came along and led to the shuttering of nonessential businesses all over the United States, including Henkenius' shop. But rather than simply suspend operations and wait out the shutdown, Henkenius moved to an entirely different business model.
She's offering what she calls "pandemic packs" — groups of three used books that she sells for $5. Customers place an order through email, over the phone or via Facebook, arrange a pickup time, and Henkenius leaves them a bag of books outside her store for pickup.
Payment is conducted online. The store also ships books via the mail and even offers a very limited delivery service.
"People can choose to have different genres – mysteries, romances, whatever," she said, adding that if customers don't have specific titles or authors in mind, she makes the selections herself. "It's a grab bag. That's what it is."
Henkenius started offering books for sale under that model with no expectation about how it would work.
"It's been very interesting," she said. "We have never done anything like this before. But in the months leading up to the anniversary, we have totally changed our business model."
Henkenius began promoting the pandemic packs over her social media accounts and was caught off guard by how well received the idea was.
"It scared me because we got a really big response when I promoted it," she said, explaining that she quickly began receiving orders from as far away as New York, New Jersey, Illinois, Utah, Texas and Missouri.
"At first, we had more people out of state ordering books than we did here in Farmington," Henkenius said.
That's because traditional online sellers such as Amazon appear to have de-emphasized book sales recently in favor of pandemic-related products, leading to a delay in their shipment of books.
Henkenius has been more than happy to fill that void, and she's gratified to see an apparent resurgence of interest in reading.
"We need to do something to get books in people's hands," she said. "Even before (the shutdown), I was telling people, 'You need to stock up.'"
The store has even seen a fair amount of drive-up business. Henkenius said some customers pull up to her door, hoping the business is still open. She goes outside to greet them and offer them a pandemic pack.
"I say, 'You need some books? I'll be right back,'" Henkenius said.
The most popular genres these days reflect these odd times, she noted.
"We have a lot of people who want to read cozy mysteries, and we have a lot of people who want to read post-apocalyptic (fiction)," she said. "A lot of people just want their kids to have books to read."
Amy's Bookcase also is a member of a national independent booksellers group called Bookshop, which is an online marketplace for new books.
Henkenius had made some big plans to celebrate the shop's 40th anniversary earlier this month, including a writers workshop featuring local authors, a local interest trivia contest, storytime sessions and a cowboy poetry gathering. Those all fell by the wayside with the outbreak of the virus, but Henkenius plans to reschedule them later in the year.
Customers interested in ordering a pandemic pack can do so by calling 505-327-4647, emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or sending a message via the store's Facebook page. The shop is open for curbside pickup from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays.
Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610. Support local journalism with a digital subscription: http://bit.ly/2I6TU0e