Quail Ridge Books wants you to keep reading. 

Three weeks into the statewide stay-at-home order, the bookstore is closed for browsing but is still shipping books. Hours may be fewer and farther between but, armed with tape and spaced carefully across the store, employees continue to peddle books by mail. 

“Right now pretty much pivoted to being an online business,” Quail Ridge general manager Jason Jefferies says. “Fortunately for us, Amazon de-prioritized their book shipping when all this started, so we have picked up a lot of book orders from across the country.” 

Prior to the coronavirus, independent bookstores nationwide had seen somewhat of a resurgence. Chains like Barnes & Noble began folding, in the mid-aughts, and local sellers have often been able to pick up the slack. In 2019, print and digital sales reached $14.8, according to the Association of American Publishers; a marked 1.8% increase from 2018. 

But for an industry crafted around connectivity, a few weeks of closure has been a gut-punch: in Portland, massive literary outpost Powell’s Books began involuntary layoffs; in New York, the beloved local chain McNally Jackson followed suit. As with restaurant takeout, the business of shipping books is not especially profitable, nor enough to always keep the doors open. Many bookstores, like San Francisco’s City Lights, have taken to GoFundMe’s. On a national level, the fundraiser Save Indie Bookstores has raised more than $710,000 for bookstores across the country. 

In the Triangle, a particularly robust independent bookstore scene is at stake. (You can read previous INDY interviews with Elese Stutts from Flyleaf in Chapel Hill and William Page from Letters in Durham). 

“We’re all working together—publishers, authors, booksellers, and we are also working with our friends at other bookstores, like Flyleaf and the Regulator,” Jefferies says. “We’re all doing what we can to support each other and stay afloat.”

Quail Ridge Books hasn’t had to resort to a fundraiser yet, and Jefferies says that the Raleigh community has rallied to help sustain it. Online sales for books are steady, the store has witnessed a spike in jigsaw puzzle orders. Classics like War and Peace are flying off the shelves, he says, as are pandemic-related narratives. For those who can’t decide between Persuasion and something more apocalyptic, the store is also offering curated mystery boxes. Free media mail shipping is available for book and CD orders. 

“There’s definitely been either a perception shift or a magnification of something that was kind of in the background,” Jefferies says, “We definitely feel like our friends in the community are coming through for us.”

Jefferies is working hard to maintain that community energy, albeit from a distance. On the Quail Ridge Books podcast, he interviews a mix of local and touring writers; some of whom might have been coming through the Triangle this April. 

“This week was with Emily St. John Mandel who has a new book called The Glass Hotel that’s really great,” Jefferies says. “Her last book, Station Eleven, in these times, is very appropriate. It’s about a pandemic. And how art survives.”

Contact deputy arts and culture editor Sarah Edwards at sedwards@indyweek.com.

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