What happens when a world famous independent bookstore finds itself in dire straits due to the global pandemic? It gets creative, of course.
As with other bookstores in trouble Like the venerable Strand of New York City, the iconic Paris bookstore Shakespeare and Company experienced a devastating drop in revenue when the COVID-19 shutdown forced them to dramatically change the way they did business.
“We have been [down] 80% from the first lockdown in March, so at this point, we’ve used all of our savings, ”said Sylvia Whitman, owner of the second generation. said in an interview with Afar.
Like The Strand, Shakespeare and Company turned to its customer base for help.
We have just sent our last newsletter in which we ask for your support if you have the means and the interest.
– Shakespeare & Company (@Shakespeare_Co) October 28, 2020
At the page turn, they were inundated with so many online orders – a record 5,000 in a week, compared to 100 under normal circumstances – that they had to temporarily shut down their e-commerce site to catch up with demand.
The efforts did not stop there.
In what is almost equivalent to taking a sheet out of the PBS playbook, Whitman found a novel way to survive and thrive in the coronavirus age with the help of a newly started membership initiative, the Friends of Shakespeare and Company Background. Members will enjoy a series of special events online and have access to other benefits geared toward avid bibliophiles.
But this is not the first time that loyal backers have done their part to keep the legendary Paris Left Bank afloat.
The history of Shakespeare and Company begins in 1919, when the original owner, Sylvia Beach, opened the doors of an establishment that would become not only a bookstore, but a salon where Ernest Hemingway, TS Eliot, F. Scott Fitzgerald and James Joyce made it themselves at home and ultimately in a small publishing house. (It was Beach who first published Joyce’s “Ulysses,” considered scandalous at the time).
In order to add to the weak sales figures when the Great Depression hit in 1929, Beach launched a series of readings and other in-store events. For a fee, the clientele got to rub shoulders with literary giants. In fact, Whitman says he was inspired by Beach’s example to revive the tradition.
In 1941, the Germans took Paris in 1941 and Beach closed the store, legend has it, after refusing to allow a Nazi officer to buy his remaining copy of Joyce’s Finnegans Wake.
The curtain on the second act of Shakespeare and Company was raised in 1951, when the ownership witness passed to Sylvia Whitman’s father, George. The beloved English language bookstore has enjoyed its well-earned reputation as a place where life and literature meet and mingle ever since.
“[My father] letting people sleep in the bookstore and calling them ‘tumbleweeds,’ ”Whitman said, explaining that her father believed that the immersive atmosphere fostered creativity. She believes it too.
These words from a motto on the wall are Whitman’s guiding force in running his business and his life: “Don’t be inhospitable to strangers lest they be angels in disguise.”
And with that as motivation, I hope the story of Shakespeare and Company has many chapters yet to be written.
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