A Matter of Shelf Preservation

Running a bookstore is tough in the best of times.  Books are items with razor thin margins for retailers, so even when we're busy, only a small portion of what we make stays with us to pay our staff, utilities, rent, and other costs.  Now, we're working longer hours than ever trying to keep up. 

This time of year is normally the start of our summer season, where our booksellers are handselling their favorites to visitors and locals alike who are out enjoying the sunshine and an afternoon in beautiful downtown Traverse City.  This year, we're scattered in different locations, working on computers, dealing with uncertain supply chains, and trying to reach customers across the country so we can keep this Brilliant operation alive.

Bookstores all over the country are in similar situations.  Some have furloughed staff and are down to one- and two-person operations.  Some are offering delivery, shipping, or curbside pickup, sometimes at a loss.  Some have suspended operations entirely and are relying on fundraising campaigns in the hope of being able to open again when all this is finally over.  And a few have decided to close for good, which is a hard loss for the bookish community.  We're all doing what we have to do right now, and our hope is that every bookstore finds a way to stay afloat.

For us, that's meant relying on our reputation and capabilities as the nation's Long Distance Local Bookstore.  We serve booklovers in every state in the US, plus some overseas!  So we had a lot of the infrastructure in place to be able to pivot and move our operation entirely online.  But having that infrastructure in place only made our new job possible.  It hasn't made it easy.

One of the many well-established and beloved bookstores running fundraising campaigns precisely summed up the situation we're facing in the description of their campaign:

We are faced with a perilous situation: Due to Covid-19 and the fact that we are closed to the public, we are running out of cash to pay our rent, utilities, payroll, liabilities and publishers, and make sure we have enough cash on-hand to re-open once we make it through.

We are asking for your immediate support. We have some emergency life savings and will use it to make sure this store keeps going, but the road ahead looks bleak and uncertain, and unless there are major changes both locally and nationwide, it will not be enough.


It's a grim prospect, but a very real one, especially with the dollar amount attached to a GoFundMe driving home just how much it costs to keep an indie bookstore afloat. 

That got us thinking.  There probably aren't a lot of people who know what those costs are, and we know you can't help if we don't tell you what we need.  So we put our heads together and came up with a campaign of our own. 

We're calling it our $100,000 Shelf Preservation campaign, for which we're setting a goal of $100,000 by June 1st.  But we're not looking to earn that through donations.  We want to get there by selling subscriptions, memberships, gift cards, and, of course, books, just as we would any other May.  The only difference is that now you get to see the goal and progress, too.  We know you're just as invested in our #ShelfPreservation as we are, and we hope that this will help give you concrete ways to help us be there to open our doors when all this is over.

Every little bit counts, but there are some things that are particularly helpful, including:

  • Gift Certificates:  Selling books online takes much longer than selling them in-store, so even if we've got piles of orders waiting, we can only get through so many in a day.  One of the best things you can do to help us (and lots of other small businesses) is by buying gift cards to redeem in person after it's safe to reopen.

  • Brilliant Books Monthly Subscriptions Like gift certificates, Brilliant Books Monthly subscriptions are easy to process remotely, and are set up to allow us to spread out the costs over time.

  • Memberships Not only are these a quick and easy way to show your appreciation for everything we do, they're also a ticket to discounted pricing, early access to signed editions, special members-only events, and more!

  • Preorders Got your eye on a book that's not out until August?  Preorder it now, and we'll have it on its way to your doorstep as soon as it's available.  Or, hopefully, available to pick up in store, depending on when it's released.

  • Audiobooks:  We can't say enough good things about our partners at Libro.fm.  Every audiobook you purchase through them supports us, and, unlike print books right now, you never have to worry about them being backordered or delayed in shipping.

We're still offering some fun incentives, like $10 back for every $100 you spend on gift certificates, and a 20% donation to the Northern Michigan school of your choice when you buy books for students or teachers.  But in the end, we hope that the biggest incentive is the thought of the day when all this is over and you can once again come browse the shelves and talk to the booksellers of Brilliant Books.  We hope to be there waiting for you.