As summer weather and reduced COVID-19 restrictions begin pulling everyone back outside, businesses, especially small businesses, are seeing a long awaited comeback. One such business is McLean and Eakin Booksellers in Petoskey.
McLean and Eakin is the type of bookstore you might picture in your head when thinking of a small town bookstore. The warm lighting, creaky wooden floors, and the smell of books in the air makes for the perfect book shopping atmosphere. It’s staff is inviting and knowledgeable, offering great recommendations to those in need. For almost 30 years this store, opened and owned by Julie Norcross, has been a staple of the downtown Petoskey experience.
Independent bookstores like McLean and Eakin were already struggling to keep up with Amazon before COVID-19, but once the pandemic hit, Zach Matelski, who’s been managing the store for the past four years, said the beginning wasn’t easy.
“It was super weird, there weren’t many other bookstores in the area that we could really rely on to help us figure it out, we had one or two people coming in to process web orders and that was pretty much it,” said Matelski.
McLean and Eakin is a member of the American Bookstore Association (ABA), an association of independent book companies that currently represents 1,700 member companies in 2,100 locations. According to ABA , it wasn’t just McLean and Eakin struggling to transition business during the brunt of the pandemic. A June 2020 report by the ABA found 20% of its members were at risk of closing their doors at the start of 2021. A new report from incoming ABA President Bradley Graham during the ABA’s annual membership meeting on May 27,noted that there had already been a “loss of 80 members due to store closures.”
Matelski said adapting was crucial to staying open, but it didn’t solve everything.
“We were doing curbside pickups after a month and relied a lot on our website orders and shipping,” said Matelski. “Before COVID we would do four or five online orders a day and all of the sudden we were doing 50. The support from the community was overwhelming and we didn’t have to lay anyone off, but we were basically just staying alive.”
Many independent bookstores rely on the experience of physically browsing its shelves to find and buy the books they need. While McLean and Eakin was holding on from boosted online orders, their sales were heavily impacted by the lack and inability of regular in-person shopping.
“We were definitely seeing way less sales than before the pandemic overall,” said Matelski.
McLean and Eakin was able to push through, and Matelski said the bookstore has seen a massive comeback and looks forward to increased traffic through the Summer.
On May 20, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced that Michigan will lift indoor capacity and mask requirements beginning July 1.
“We opened in person a month and a half ago, we’ve had huge crowds and even people walking in clapping and celebrating, we’ve seen a huge difference and it’s definitely exciting,” said Matelski.