The Rapidian

Amidst COVID stay-at-home, Books and Mortar fights to stay in the game

Small businesses face an unparalleled challenge. But Jenny Kinne, local bookseller, isn't giving up.

Like the rest of us, Jenny Kinne was shocked as she watched COVID-19 effectively shut down Grand Rapids. But maybe a little less shocked than the rest of us.

“I'm a bit of a news junkie,” said Kinne, 29, who owns and operates independent Grand Rapids bookseller Books and Mortar. “It was around the first week of March when we started to understand that this was going to impact our business.” 

Kinne was a Books and Mortar employee when the store’s co-founders asked if she’d consider buying the small business from them. “My heart stopped—my gut feeling was that I just had to figure it out, because I wouldn’t get another opportunity like this. To run a proudly progressive independent bookstore? That’s the dream.” Just a year after taking over, she’s working 12-hour days to fight the toughest setback the store has ever faced. “We are facing a huge financial risk right now...this is a struggle and will take a ton of creativity to get through.”

Luckily, the shop’s dedicated base of readers have not sat idly by. “Our customers are putting up an amazing fight with us; I cannot overstate that enough.” The store’s site has been flooded with orders for books and gift cards. Kinne has responded via the store’s social media pages, where she focuses on “letting people know what the situation is, providing book recommendations, providing some source of hope and inspiration.”

Nevertheless, online sales can’t replace in-store ones, keeping total numbers far below the store’s normal rate.

Though this episode poses an existential challenge for the store, it also serves as a reminder of how essential our bookstores truly are. “One of the reasons I love books so much is that they ground me and inspired me more than anything else,” said Kinne. “They connect me with humanity, even in isolation, and they provide such great empowering knowledge on how the world works and how we can be creative and build things anew.”

Kinne believes that the value of the store’s progressive stance on curation shows in a crisis like this. “We've been advocating for basic-needs programs and safety net programs and healthcare for all; people are buying these books and reading them and trying to figure out how we can make our way out of this mess and maybe prevent it from ever happening again.”

With another month of empty streets ahead, many may be asking what they can do to help the local businesses they love stay afloat.

“I would advocate that people check in with the small businesses in their communities, ask what they need, make sure they're supporting them however they can,” said Kinne. “And if there are any landlords out there: forgive rent. That's what we need more than anything right now. And very few landlords are doing it.”

Books and Mortar is doing direct-to-home shipping for $2 anywhere in the United States. Customers can order books or gift cards at booksandmortar.com, or can email Jenny directly at [email protected] to place an order.

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