The Indicator from Planet Money - Pandemic Adaptation: Bookstore Edition

Early in the pandemic, things looked bleak for Source Booksellers, a bookstore in Detroit. But they survived. The secret? Adaptation and loyal customers. | Support public radio here.

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Janet Webster Jones is the owner of source booksellers a bookstore. She runs along with her daughter Allison Jones Turner. The bookstore has been in its current location in Detroit Midtown neighborhood since 2013. But Janet has been selling books for more than three decades and then it says she has always wanted Source booksellers to be about the relationship that customers would have with the bookstore and with each other. I didn't want to transactional business. What you do you take the book and go I wasn't interested in that. I stopped at books and reading had a human part to it that people wanted to talk to each other. They wanted to share with each other or they would come and look for books together or we would have events and so on Janet Nelson had made an important decision so early on we decided not to do an online.

But of course not having an online business meant to win the pandemic arrived earlier this year and customers could not come inside their store. Janet and Allison were in a seemingly impossible position. How would they survive? I'm part of first year and this is the indicator from Planet Money on the show in the next in our series of interviews with small business owners, but chat with Janet and Allison the story how they adapt it and how their customers in their Community rally behind them.

This message comes from NPR sponsor Microsoft teams. Now. There are more ways to be a team with Microsoft teams. Bring everyone together in a virtual room collaborate live on the same page and see if 249 people want screen learn more at teams support for NPR in the following message come from funrise fundrise makes it easy for anyone to invest in high-quality real estate by building you a portfolio with there more than 1 billion dollars in assets get started at indicator to have your first 90 days of advisory fees waived Janet Allison, welcome to the show. Thank you very much for pleased to be here. Why don't you start by painting a picture for us when someone walks into Source booksellers and looks around for the first time. What do they see what I see a lot of books. We have a very small store where under 900 square feet will utilize the the space Berry.

Efficiently and very, well I think so. The two walls are lined with bookshelves. And then we have movable we call him the tree is because there is shaped like a pyramid on Wheels so we can move the shelves around to acquire different uses of the space everyday events on so we can have rooms for chairs and things like that, you know, but just rolling over there. How would you describe your relationship with your customers? Did you have regulars? Did you enjoy interacting with customers when they came in the door to you recommend book. So what was it like sort of regulars? We had a customer that we have to do is going away party, you know when they are going away. It's like no will miss you too much.

But right now we have you know, visit from customers at disenchanted can't stay away but are being as safe as they can to still talkin and communicate with us going into the pandemic. How would you describe how business was going right before say in January or February of this year has been in this space or eight years. In fact, I paid all the bills of March up until the last about $1,500 worth. So that was to happen on a Monday. But when Monday came it was like a curtain had dropped and we were shocked to say the least and I thought how we going to do. What's going to happen. Are we going to get a quick? You know, it was like that. It was like jerky so we couldn't figure out why but to do but my daughter Allison

Quickly moved us onto a online platform. And while she was doing that. I was scrambling to find grants or figure out what else we could do. So it was it was a shaky time. And I know I knew it would not be wise to close the business even though people were doing that as I was in here to shut of the door and close the business. So that's where we were when you say that the curtain came down. Do you mean that like the government said that you couldn't have people inside or was it just a people stopped coming to cells because of their absence because we were basically just have in store sales adapt and you started doing online sales and I'm wondering if in those early mans. What is there any point in time when you worried ohmygod? We might not make it we might go out of business if things don't pick up.

with black businesses that we started when we didn't have any money or money movement going and making more like that, but I was sure that we would not close the business we have had times in the past when we had to change and do things differently and become better businesses and be a different kind and Better Business and when I say better serving the community serving our customers serving people now across the whole country because people are calling in because we had a couple of Grants and we had unexpectedly and without requesting checks came from

Very loyal customer who wanted to see us continue. So that was like right. I'm a wanted you to make it and then there were other organizations around the area would betray you cannot make our Development Corporation The Tech Challenge and are any ideas a local places finding places that offer grants. And so those are the things that we applied for and we were able to in March and March person in April and I think we have a package out recently a little bag of tea in a chocolate.

Something but different way mostly online phone calls emails and somebody's if you even asking us to do things on their Instagram is changing what their needs are for employment in the store. I never thought about that until just really really have to figure out what it is. We really do need we do need help but we have to figure out what we need. Now that was different than before the yeah, and my last question is if the two of you have any words of advice or inspiration for other small business owners who are struggling in what's been a really devastating year for the economy for how they can be resilient in and make it through

And we don't know what I risk tolerance is until things happened.

I think it's being flexible finding out what's needed and and try to meet that and NBS.

Appreciative and in as a guest and I think we just have to take our courage and move on. I use the opportunities that we have to come to us from people to serve them as they need to be served and keep on going. Thank you so much for your time today. This was a pleasure found out about Janet Nelson was produced by Jamila Huxtable fact-checked by Sean Saldana and edited by Patty Hearst. The indicator is a production of NPR.

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