Here at Libro.fm, we wanted to hear from booksellers around the country about how they and their bookstores were coping with the effects of the pandemic. For this series, we spoke with Hannah Oliver Depp, bookseller and owner of Loyalty Bookstores in Silver Spring, Maryland and Washington, DC.
Could you give us a brief overview of your career in bookselling?
I have been bookselling for 10 years and worked at Politics & Prose and WORD Bookstores in various management roles before moving back home to DC to open Loyalty Bookstores. We started as a pop-up during the 2018 holiday season and now have two locations.
How has the pandemic affected your bookstore?
We had to close both locations to the public in March and remove curbside pick-up as we were not an essential business. I had to lay off all part-time employees and reduce my full-time staff to part-time and remove myself from the payroll entirely. We are operating fully online, offering direct-to-home orders, audio and ebook offerings, and customized subscription boxes (“Stay the F at Home” and “Indoor Kids” Bundles) in addition to continuing to offer sidelines and Loyalty swag. We also handsell books digitally.
Currently, I average about 13 hours of work per day, and we’re about two weeks behind on orders. The store is lucky in that folks are supporting us and attending our online events, but there is a grave misunderstanding of the human and environmental cost of online retail and shipping due to Amazon’s effect on our culture.
What does your bookstore offer your local community?
I began Loyalty to keep diverse representation in the rapidly gentrifying areas that I grew up in, to promote the literature of my community, and to create programming that was welcoming and inventive.
Are there ways in which your community has eased the difficulties brought on by Covid-19?
DC offered grants for small businesses, but then was dramatically under-funded (more so than any other state or land owned by the U.S.), so they were not able to offer as much as they planned and those grants were greatly reduced. Our customers have been wonderfully dedicated to the store and helping us stay “open” online.
What’s been helping you to cope, not necessarily as a bookseller, but on a personal level?
My dog. Watching Star Trek, M*A*S*H, and Living Single on repeat. Wine. Dance mixes. Whiskey. French fries. Knowing we can create our way through this moment and come out with something worthy of our neighborhoods and our industry.
Have any great reads been getting you through this?
I am having an incredibly difficult time focusing, so I’ve been splashing around in a lot of books. Mainly romance novels! Happily, books like Girl Gone Viral by Arvin Ahmadi, Not That Kind of Guy by Andie J. Christopher, and Take a Hint, Dani Brown by Talia Hibbert are all on their way/already out.
Plus, re-reading Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor for our book club has been wonderful. I keep re-reading various essays in Wow, No Thank You by Sam Irby, which is like a lifeline being published in this moment, and the poetry collection Postcolonial Love Poem by Natalie Diaz is like a glass of water after a run.
Note: Check out Libro.fm’s Author Interview with Samantha Irby here!
What audiobooks are you listening to during this time?
What are your hopes for the bookstore community on the other side of the pandemic?
That the innovation we have long called for stops being referred to as a dream or something that maybe we’ll get to eventually. We need to go back to the drawing board with publishers and our community and renegotiate every aspect of this business so that we can pay what booksellers deserve, have the bargaining power of legitimate retail, and make our voices heard to our local governments. This has revealed that no one is safe from the cracks in our business model and in our social safety net–some of us just fall through faster.
What can we do now to help independent bookstores?
The immediate help is to keep shopping: on our websites, bookshop.org, or of course on Libro.fm. We need those sales to get us through. So many stores are doing creative offerings, and it’s a great time to find the one nearest you to engage with.
But in the bigger sense, get politically involved in how small business is represented by your local government. How are we taxed differently? What are the sidewalk and parking laws? Is there a way for us to buy our shops? The long-term health of small businesses in this country is hanging in the balance, and the outcome is bleak without intervention from the communities we serve.
Anything else you’d like to share?
Everyone is doing their best and I like y’all a lot.