March 19, 2020

Indie bookstores lay off hundreds; relief efforts organized


As the novel coronavirus continues to spread, its rapidly escalating toll on civil life has begun to extend to the book business. On the retail end, the news spread rapidly yesterday that three legendary indie stores—McNally Jackson, Powell’s and Busboys and Poets—have collectively laid off more than 600 booksellers.

McNally Jackson, whose original store was built, according to founder Sarah McNally, over a “former chicken abattoir,” had recently opened a new store in Williamsburg; that store, like the others, is closed to IRL browsing. Many other stores both in New York City and across the country have followed suit, shuttering their retail operations and taking only online orders.

We here at John Street scattered across the tri-state region are feeling this deep inside, where it hurts the most (no, not our stomachs)—and not least because our staff includes five former booksellers. They are, truly, the foot soldiers of the empire of books, and we are in big trouble without them. Leave no one behind!

It goes without saying that one of the best ways you can support bookstores, and publishers, and writers, and managing editors, for that matter, is by ordering online from your local indie. Our co-founder launched a twitter thread last week that encouraged indies taking orders online to share their information; the thread has been compiled into a handy reference by our friends at LitHub, who also make an eloquent plea for literary citizenship of this stripe.

If you want to help out even more directly, you can donate specifically to the former McNally Jackson booksellers here, or you can also donate to the Book Industry Charitable Foundation, which likewise helps out unemployed booksellers who find themselves in need.

Wash yer hands, kids.



Michael Lindgren is the Managing Editor at Melville House.