UPDATED: 1:56 p.m. October 7, 2021
UPDATE: This week, Avid Bookshop opened for browsing on Tuesdays in addition to the regular Wednesday-Saturday hours.
“One of the darkest moments of last year was when I realized that I wasn’t doing what I found most fulfilling at the job, which is connecting books with readers,” said Luis Correa, operations manager and bookseller at Avid Bookshop.
The pandemic has shaped many people’s experiences. Local businesses in Athens are finding ways to continue to connect with the community and navigate their way through the continuing pandemic.Why It’s Newsworthy: As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, businesses need to continually adapt their business models whether it’s their staff, product supply or safety measures. Avid Bookshop in Five Points illustrates how a business can change its model to adapt to the pandemic and move forward.
Avid Bookshop reopened the shop floor Aug. 7, 2021, after suspending in-person browsing in March of 2020. Customers could order their books online to ship to their homes, and the staff at Avid worked to package and send the shipping orders quickly before launching the curbside pickup model in June of 2020.
“The curbside pickup response was so great,” Correa said.
This new method allowed customers to come to the store to grab their book orders off of red carts parked outside the shop’s door.
Correa explained that the decision to close the shop floor was not taken lightly but was ultimately made out of concern for the health of the staff and the community. While staff worked in the store to fill shipping and curbside orders, capacity was limited, and they protected themselves with safety measures.
Because booksellers were not able to physically interact with customers to assist them in the book-buying process, Correa said they launched several new features on their website and changed parts of their phone service to improve user experience and provide more of a personal touch.
The Browse Books by Vibe page categorizes books by feeling, so customers can choose books to match their current mood. The Avid Match Book function allows customers to fill out a form to gather information about their interests and what they’re looking for in a book. The staff then puts together a recommendation list based on the responses.
Without the sense of the community the store atmosphere was built upon, Correa felt like his work as a bookseller lacked purpose.
“It just felt like I was a fulfillment center,” Correa said.
Correa recalls the emotion he experienced when they could finally open the shop doors again. The staff put away the packing materials that had occupied the prominent middle table in the shop and started putting out books again.
“I remember the goosebumps I felt when we finally cleaned that table off, and we were putting stacks of books on it again,” Correa said.
While the shop floor is open again, there are safety measures to continue to ensure the health of the staff, customers and community.
The in-store hours are limited to Wednesday-Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Customers can also pick up curbside orders during this time. In addition, store capacity is limited. Baskets outside the door will indicate whether or not the store is at capacity. One basket is required for each customer 12 years or older. Masks are required.
Avid Bookshop’s ability to reopen is part of the larger narrative of the state of local business in Athens. The staff at the Athens Area Chamber of Commerce is working to provide small business owners with information and support, so they can continue to run their businesses.
“We felt like that was definitely our number one role is just really keeping a steady source of information available,” said Marissa Chastain, director of sales at the Athens Area Chamber of Commerce.
The Chamber provides information through community health call updates, which include Mayor Kelly Girtz and representatives from the local hospitals. In addition, they launched the Athens, We Deserve a Shot campaign and the COVID Business Resources page of their website, where they are keeping track of vaccination numbers. As the campaign explains, increased vaccination numbers allow for continued business operations and a strong local economy.
Even though some elements of normalcy have returned, Correa stressed that there are still obstacles ahead of them that are a product of the pandemic. Specifically, he expressed worries about their supply chain and their ability to get enough product on the shelves, especially ahead of the busy holiday season.
In order to provide the best shopping experience with these limitations, the staff is advising customers to do their holiday shopping early to help offset supply issues.
The return to in-person shopping helps recreate the sense of community that makes Avid Bookshop part of the local color.
“It felt like recapturing what makes bookstores great, and that other people were going to have that same feeling when they come, came in again,” Correa said.
Caroline Kurzawa is a senior majoring in journalism in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, minoring in women’s studies and earning a Public Affairs Communications Certificate at the University of Georgia.
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