The exterior of Alabaster Bookshop, pictured in 2018 (Photo by Hiroyuki Shibata).
NEW YORK, NY — Though stories of small businesses braving the shutdown were plentiful and popular six months ago, we seem to have lost interest in them as we hurtle our way towards what looks to be a fresh start. Many of us are eager to move forward as memories of the lockdown slip into the most remote corners of our minds, but how is a beloved local bookstore managing now that reopening is well under way?
Alabaster Bookshop, a used bookstore in downtown Manhattan, is a perfect example of a business that is trying to find its way through the reopening process. Established in 1996, Alabaster Bookshop is owned by Stephen Crowley (who is, full disclosure, my father). Looking into the bookstore from the outside, there are two large windows, one with gold lettering stating the name of the shop. There is a deep green awning above the door, which is flanked by outdoor book stands on either side. Walking in, the first thing you see to your left is a book-lined desk with a large computer at its corner. This is where Mr. Crowley normally sits.
Like other small businesses, the bookshop found it quite difficult to stay afloat during the earlier stages of the pandemic, and quite honestly, the majority of 2020. “Probably at the beginning of March (2020) it just started to drop,” Mr. Crowley stated. Closing down from the beginning of March, to nearly the end of August 2020, opening for a few months, and then closing yet again for most of the winter, the store suffered from great losses that were barely balanced out by the PPP loans. There was quite a lot of fear surrounding the reopening process for both customers and employees. Though most of this fear subsided towards the end of the year, it still deeply affected business for the bookshop.
“When we first reopened, the weeks were slow but the weekends were good,” Mr. Crowley remarked after I brought up the reopening process. A lot of precautions had to be taken and because they planned to reopen permanently, daily orders of business had to be reconsidered and revised. During the week, the city was slow and interest in spending time in a second hand bookstore seemed to be on the low. Weekends were an improvement but the city still wasn’t itself. “Now we are doing just as well during the weeks as we are on the weekends!” he said excitedly.
“Strangely things are going better now than they were going before the pandemic, and I think that’s because people are so hungry to get out and do things,” he stated in response to my question about how he felt the business was doing.
He’s hopeful for the trajectory of the business this summer and moving forward. “In New York anyway, I feel as if the sky’s the limit right now! I mean, everything is opening up, I felt like today everybody was out and it really felt like New York City! People are just really hungry to have a good time and enjoy summer in New York.”