EAU CLAIRE, Wis. – Margaret Leonard and Jill Heinke Moen originally expected their business to close for a while.
It was last March, and like many others at the time, they thought the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic would be relatively short and that their business, Dotters Books, would soon reopen to personal customers. When it became clear that the pandemic was indefinite, Leonard’s basement was turned into a de facto bookstore.
The relocation of operations to Leonardo’s house was a significant change, but not entirely unknown. For about the first year, Dotters Books operated as a pop-up store at various local events until the summer of 2018, when it moved to a brick-and-mortar store at 1602 Hogeboom Ave.
Dotters focuses on new books written by women and people of color; also offers a range of children’s books.
“It’s always been a real priority for us to ensure that the voices that are sometimes overlooked or marginalized are the voices we have in stock,” Leonard said.
In the last 10 months or more, purchases have been made through online ordering on Dotters Books. Because Leonard and Heinke Moen are not in COVID-19 bubbles, they haven’t gathered in person since the deal closed. This means that Leonard handles day-to-day logistics, such as orders, shipments, invoices, and responds to emails. Most orders are local, but Dotters can be shipped anywhere in the country. There is also the possibility to pick up orders from Leonardo’s porch, said telegram leader Eau Claire.
There were also changes at CLC Book House, 501 Grover Road. The store closed in mid-March and reopened about two months later with a mask requirement. The store is the official book of the Lutheran Church and is located on the campus of Immanuel Lutheran High School, College and Seminary. CLC Book House offers Bibles, Christian books, daily devotions and other items such as coffee mugs, jewelry and wall art.
There are three employees, the same number as before the pandemic, and the hours in the stone shop have fallen slightly. Jessica Lau, manager of CLC Book House, said that online orders are now a major part of sales, especially purchases from other CLC churches across the country. During the pandemic, Lau said total sales declined slightly, probably due to fewer visits by people to the community.
The two items that Lau said increased demand during the pandemic are a daily devotional solution to the worries and challenges of life, and a meditation pamphlet to help deal with the death of a beloved Christian. Lau said it was worthwhile to provide assistance to people facing difficult circumstances.
Jill Henke agreed. Henke is the CEO of Books-A-Million, 4030 Commonwealth Ave. and said during the pandemic that purchases of home activities such as children’s educational notebooks, games, puzzles, diaries and coloring books increased. Henke was happy to provide these opportunities at a time when leisure opportunities had declined significantly.
“There are so many things to offer that you’d like to have on hand if you have to stay home,” Henke said.
BAM closed its stone shop in mid-March for several months, but had online ordering and curb pickup available. The store eventually reopened with a request for a mask, another disinfectant, a hand sanitizer, and cash registers. Despite massive disruptions, Henke said sales in 2020 were similar to previous years.
At Dotters Books, operations changed completely, but business really improved in 2020.
“I feel really weird, but last year was our best year in terms of sales,” Leonard said.
Leonard attributed this increase to people looking for escism while spending more time at home and buying more club titles at book clubs.
Demand for the types of books Dotters has always offered grew after the death of George Floyd and the summer of protests against racial injustice. Leonard said more purchases of books like “Stamped from the Beginning” and “The Vanishing Half” were made, especially from local book clubs.
Leonard said the main differences during the pandemic are bulk orders from book clubs. Otherwise, sales were roughly the same in terms of authors and genres.
Henke said it was similar to Books-A-Million, noting that there had been a significant increase in purchases of race books since last summer and an increase in political books purchased before the November 2020 elections.
Another reason for the increased sales at Dotters is the focus on local purchasing, and Leonard appreciates the support of the Eau Claire community.
“It’s amazing how incredible people were in their generosity and patience to get us all this,” Leonard said. “I’ve always been aware of the special community we managed to create in the store, but it was never parental … It was incredible, spilling out of the community to make sure we could still be here, even when it was all done. “
Although Leonard and Heinke Moen cannot communicate in person with customers, there are still several offers that provide connections through the literature. Dotters continues his ongoing book club, but now members meet virtually every month. Heinke Moen also runs most of the children’s stories most Saturday mornings on Facebook, a remote version of an activity that used to take place in a stone shop.
Leonard and Heinke Moen are the only two employees, so Dotters Books can be flexible and adapt to a pandemic. However, this does not mean that the transition was easy. Leonard said it was difficult to find a balance between her work and family working from home, but her goal was to balance the day-to-day stress of running a small business with gratitude that the demand for books persisted.
Although the store is almost empty for now, Leonard said she and Heinke Moen will be “more than ready” to reopen when they and many others receive the COVID-19 vaccination.
In addition to trade adjustments, Leonard’s personal reading habits changed during the pandemic. She consumed more books focusing on storytelling, including series, and writers like James Baldwin helped her cope with a tumultuous past.
Lau revisited Martin Luther’s writings and Bible passages and said that their timelessness provided comfort in turbulent times.
“The challenges of life already exist for recorded history,” Lau said. “That’s one of the nice things about the Bible, it’s that it’s the same yesterday, today, and forever.” No matter the time, it applies to everyone. “
The last 10 months have brought many challenges, but bookstore owners have adapted and found a reward in giving their customers peace of mind.