Detroit bookstore struggles to survive COVID-19

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Pages, a small locally-owned bookshop in Detroit.

Susan Murphy is the owner of Pages, a small bookstore in Detroit. Pages, its publishers, and its property management came to a halt with the hold placed on in person operations.

“March 16, I will never forget that day, that’s when I closed the store,” said Murphy.

Inside of Pages, you can find tons of books and a cat named Pip. Murphy said suspending in-person operations and transitioning to being completely online had its challenges.

“The big difficulty for me was I went from processing one or two online orders a week to getting like 50 a day,” said Murphy, “The volume was enormous, and I didn’t have processes in place to handle that kind of volume.” 

Murphy said her main concern was being able to fill orders in the timely manner that she promised, however, this was not always in her control. 

“It was hard to get books because of publishers, they shut down too and all the supply chains just came to a halt,” said Murphy. 

Updated hours and capacity restrictions posted on the door of Pages Bookshop.

The shutdown of Pages impacted work being done at Wayne State University Press, a publisher of primarily scholarly articles for the university. 

“We do also publish a small trading approach, so we have the Painted Turtle imprint as part of our collection and that is where we’re able to publish more general interest,” said Emily Nowak, the marketing and sales director at Wayne State University Press. “So those are books that we primarily publish through Susan’s shop at Pages.”

Nowak said they experienced the halt in the supply chains firsthand.

“When the pandemic first hit, there was a lot of – felt like – damage control trying to figure out how we’ve continued to support our authors in this virtual space, but we didn’t really know quite what it looked like just yet,” said Nowak. 

Nowak said despite the challenges presented by working remotely, the pandemic has opened opportunities for accessibility and convenience. 

“I think we’re thinking about all those different options, different ways that we will continue to figure out how to work in this new space,” said Nowak.

Sherita Smith, the director of real estate for the company that owns the building Pages operates in, had a large responsibility of helping tenants during the shutdown.

“The first concern was everybody’s safety. So, the safety of our staff, safety of our tenants, safety of our coworking office members,” said Smith.

Smith said she offered at least a month of rental forgiveness and advocated for rental assistance for the small business owners. She said the company was able to receive grant funds for their small businesses.

“We were really concerned with our small business owners,” said Smith. “We’re a community development corporation so being in the community and being accessible to residents is endemic to our work.”

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