3 months ago

Alabama’s old bookstores holding on with new strategies, online events

While bookstores in Alabama were considered nonessential and mandated closed to the public for nearly a month, many owners turned to online sales and curbside deliveries to keep revenues streaming amid what had been more than a decade of steady book business nationwide.

Publishers Weekly said Americans paid more than $5 billion to buy nearly 700 million books last year, with little drop-off in sales expected in this year of the pandemic. Pew Research found that although about a quarter of all Americans have not read a book in a year or more, 65% said they’ve recently read a printed publication.

Mike Breen, manager of Read Herring in Montgomery, said “The Slave Who Went to Congress” and “All of the Belles” have sold “quite well” during the quarantine. Both are published by NewSouth Books, which shares its headquarters location with the bookstore (pronounced “red”) that reopened at 10 a.m. today.

“We actually don’t have an online storefront, so technically all of our sales during the quarantine came from call-ins and custom orders,” Breen said of the 20-year-old store. “With that in mind, sales were a fraction of what they normally are. This quarantine hit us pretty hard, but I think we are going to be OK.”

Breen looks forward to renewed walk-in traffic from the Civil Rights Trail, which brings frequent out-of-town customers inside the South Court Street storefront looking for titles about the 1950s-1960s struggles in which Montgomery residents played a prominent role. However, he said it’s been the familiar customers who have helped Read Herring survive during the state-mandated closure.

“We are fortunate to have a group of customers in the local area who kept supporting us, since they kept buying books and using our curbside service and delivery offers,” Breen said, noting there has been no staff reduction. “We would like to thank them from the bottom of our hearts.”

Read Herring was able to livestream NewSouth’s release of the collection of stories by F. Scott Fitzgerald and the children’s book about U.S. Sen. Benjamin Sterling Turner (1825-1894) of Selma. Authors Frye Gaillard and Marti Rosner told about writing “The Slave Who Went to Congress” and Kirk Curnutt talked for an hour online about “All of the Belles: The Montgomery Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald.” Those videos are available on the Read Herring Facebook page.

Breen said because of the large size of his bookstore, the temporary 50% occupancy and social distancing requirements “shouldn’t affect” customers or staff.

Pew Research found that the largest reader group in the U.S. is ages 18-29, with 80% reading physical books. Another 80% of Americans who are college-educated read frequently.

Book sales didn’t fall for the Alabama Booksmith in Homewood during Alabama’s retail quarantine. Owner Jake Reiss will continue to keep the doors of his 25-year-old store closed for the time being “in consideration of the health of our staff and customers.” Birmingham customers can order online or by phone and Reiss will bring books to their vehicles outside his store.

“Our business has remained pretty much the same, and with the release of certain new books, actually spiked,” Reiss said. “We are the only shop on the planet that sells exclusively signed books. Every book in the store is signed and sells for regular publisher’s price, the same as unsigned copies. Our online sales dominate our business, before and after the quarantine. Our entire staff is intact and will stay so.”

Reiss said he sold out of all John Grisham books during the coronavirus quarantine, as well as Erik Larson’s “The Splendid and the Vile” and a new book about the Masters golf tournament. He said other steady sellers include a couple by Alabama authors: Winston Groom’s “Forrest Gump” and Rick Bragg’s “All Over but the Shoutin’.”

Alabama Booksmith frequently hosts book signings by popular authors, but the events were canceled during the quarantine. Reiss said those will resume soon.

Page & Palette in Fairhope was founded in 1968 but didn’t have online sales until the quarantine. It has been an event-driven shop that attracted authors from across the country for in-house book signings and readings, which has resulted in “very slow” business the past month. Phone orders were taken for curbside pickup since April 4.

“With so many customers remaining at home who still wanted to support their local bookstore, we became an affiliate bookstore of Bookshop,” said Anderson McKean of Page & Palette. “This has enabled customers to search and purchase books online and have them shipped to their home.”

Page & Palette during the quarantine continued promoting books on social media, highlighting what furloughed staff members were reading at home. Titles that sold “particularly well” included “The End of October” by Lawrence Wright, “The Giver of Stars” by Jojo Moyes, “Walk the Wire” by David Balducci and “Where the Crawdad Sings” by Delia Owens, which is No. 1 nationally and sold more than 1 million copies last year. Children’s books that have been big sellers for Page & Palette during the pandemic include Max Brallier’s “Last Kids on Earth” series and the “Percy Jackson” series by Rick Riordan.

Page & Palette hosted a Facebook Live event with local author Watt Key as he answered questions from a virtual audience about his new book, “Beast.” An online storytime May 5 will highlight children’s authors Jonathan Stutzman and Heather Fox with their new picture book, “Llama Unleashes the Alpacalypse.”

Page & Palette’s building includes the full-service coffee shop Latte Da and Book Cellar bar with live music nightly, so it is a hub of activity in Fairhope’s old downtown district. McKean said large events will be postponed until the state’s 50% occupancy rule is lifted, but the store reopened today.

“Since many families are looking for things to keep children engaged, we also offer links to author- and publisher-hosted virtual events on our social media pages, such as the ‘Read Together, Be Together’ storytimes and ‘Magic Tree House Home Adventures’,” McKean said. “We plan to host our quarterly Book Club Night virtually later this month and will continue to evaluate other virtual author events.”

Online sales increased 300% for Ernest & Hadley Booksellers in Tuscaloosa during the coronavirus quarantine, said store manager Avery Leopard. Customers bought “a little bit of everything,” but the majority were on The New York Times bestsellers list for fiction and young adult books.

“We are a small, family owned and operated business and have managed to keep our head above water,” Leopard said. “Our staff continues to work remotely or with reduced hours, but we are still on board. Our customers are amazing and have continued to shop with us, despite the limitations.”

Ernest & Hadley will remain closed the next three weeks. Bookstore employees will still be taking online and phone orders, and curbside pickup is available 1-3 p.m. Monday through Saturday and by appointment. Leopard said the store will continue the online book club and “Reader Meet Writer” series on Zoom, and offer a 15% online discount on authors’ books around the time of the virtual events.

“Out of concern and respect for our customers, staff and all of the front-line workers and medical personnel keeping us going, our plan is to reopen to the public on Monday, May 25, provided the curve is on the decline,” Leopard said.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

36 mins ago

Chuck Martin endorses Republican Russell Bedsole in Alabama House District 49

Russell Bedsole’s Republican candidacy has received a boost in the Alabama House District 49 special election.

This seat, covering parts of Bibb, Chilton and Shelby Counties, was vacated by the resignation of State Rep. April Weaver (R-Brierfield), who left the legislature to join the administration of President Donald J. Trump.

Bedsole led the pack in the GOP primary held last week, finishing ahead of second-place Mimi Penhale and third-place Chuck Martin. Since no candidate got a majority, a runoff will be held on September 1.

On Wednesday night, Martin endorsed Bedsole in that runoff via a Facebook post.


Martin led Bibb County in primary votes and finished with a competitive 24.25% overall.

In a release, he expounded on why he is publicly backing Bedsole.

“After thoughtful consideration, I am endorsing Russell Bedsole to represent District 49 in the Alabama House of Representatives,” Martin stated. “Like me, Bedsole has deep roots in District 49. I believe he will be a strong voice for Bibb, Shelby, and Chilton counties, and he will fight for our communities’ conservative Christian values in Montgomery.”

Bedsole, a longtime deputy sheriff in Shelby County and an Alabaster city councilor, has already been endorsed by the likes of Shelby County Sheriff John Samaniego and the Alabama State Fraternal Order of the Police in the race.

“It is an honor to be endorsed by Chuck Martin,” Bedsole commented. “As a representative of District 49, I will fight for pro-life and pro-Second Amendment legislation, along with funding for developing crucial infrastructure, in the Alabama House of Representatives.”

Penhale, the legislative director for Shelby County’s legislative delegation, has taken an unpaid leave of absence from her state government job to run for office. She has been endorsed by the Alabama Farmers Federation.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

2 hours ago

License plate to support Alabama business proposed — Must meet 1,000 application benchmark

A license plate that will support Alabama small businesses will be created if 1,000 apply for one by July 31.

Funds from purchasing the plate will be given to Main Street Alabama, which will in turn provide workshops and grants to small businesses around the Yellowhammer State.

The tag can be applied for here. A $50 fee accompanies the application.

“With this program, individuals can show their dedication to their favorite small businesses, who in many cases are their friends and neighbors, with a tag that gives back to them with workshops and grants focused on strengthening their business,” said Main Street Alabama state coordinator Mary Helmer in a statement.


Helmer added, “Small businesses keep it local by consistently sponsoring the local baseball team, providing gift baskets for the local charity drives and creating jobs in their community.”

Main Street Alabama is a non-profit entity and an offshoot of Main Street America organization.

The artwork on the tag was created by Chris Seagle, a graphic designer based in Birmingham.

The idea for a car tag supporting small business originated among a group of elected officials in Jefferson County.

Casey Middlebrooks, a member of the group and a Hoover City Councilman, said that his fellow officials “felt Main Street Alabama had the statewide presence and resources to facilitate support to small businesses throughout the state.”

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95

3 hours ago

Ivey urges Alabamians to complete Census — Billions in funding, congressional seat at stake

Governor Kay Ivey (R-AL) on Friday released a video public service announcement urging Yellowhammer State residents to complete the 2020 Census.

The deadline to complete the Census recently was moved up to September 30, meaning there is less than seven weeks left for Alabamians to either self-respond or respond to Census Bureau field staff.

Leaders from the public sector, as well as industry, economic development, charitable and civic organizations, have warned for months that Alabama has a lot on the line during the 2020 Census response period.

Projections have shown the state will lose a congressional district and corresponding electoral college vote — likely to a far-left state such as New York, California or Illinois — if Alabama’s response rate continues to lag.


“Complete your 2020 Census today,” Ivey said to begin the new PSA. “We only have until September 30.”

“Without you, Alabama stands to lose billions in funding, a seat in Congress and economic development opportunities,” she continued. “It only takes minutes to complete. Go to my2020census.gov or participate by phone or mail.”

The governor concluded, “Be counted — if not for you, for those in Alabama who depend on you for a brighter tomorrow.”


Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

3 hours ago

Report: Birmingham golf tournament Regions Tradition canceled for 2020

A report from WBRC in Birmingham on Friday says that the yearly golf tournament Regions Tradition has canceled the 2020 edition due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The event organizers say it will be back in early May of 2021.

WBRC says they were told by a “source close to the tournament” about the decision to cancel the 2020 version.

The tournament had previously been rescheduled from its normal late spring/early summer slot until September due to COVID-19 concerns.


Regions Tradition is a tournament on the PGA Tour Champions circuit, a series of competitions held each year for golfers over age 50.

According to Alabama NewsCenter, the annual Regions Tradition tournament has an economic impact on the Birmingham area between $20 million and $25 million every year.

The Tradition was first held in 1989 and is one of the five major golf tournaments on the Senior Circuit.

Regions took over as the event’s sponsor in 2010 and relocated the tournament to the Birmingham area beginning in 2011.

Steve Stricker won the tournament in 2019, a title he will now keep for two years.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95

4 hours ago

Jefferson County health officials say coronavirus pandemic precautions will continue into 2021

Two impactful figures in Jefferson County’s healthcare system advised on Friday that the coronavirus pandemic and resulting precautions such as mask-wearing will remain a major factor in public life at least through the end of 2020.

Jefferson County Health Officer Dr. Mark Wilson and CEO of the UAB Health System/Ascension St. Vincent’s Alliance Will Ferniany briefed reporters on coronavirus information during a Friday morning videoconference.

“This pandemic is not going away by the end of December,” warned Ferniany.

Wilson said it was “very likely” that he would push to keep a mask order in place across Jefferson County “through the flu season” which would indicate the ordinance would stay in place at least through the spring of 2021.


“We have pretty good evidence that our face-covering orders, and our help from the public wearing face coverings, has made a difference,” remarked Wilson.

“We still have a ways to go but we’re starting to bend the curve downward,” Wilson told reporters.

The remarks made by Wilson and Ferniany are similar to what Mobile County epidemiologist Dr. Rendi Murphree told Yellowhammer News in recent days.

Ferniany said that UAB is making a significant investment in rapid testing that should be ready for action by the end of the year, the availability of which should make dealing with the virus more manageable.

Wilson highlighted a standard he felt more people should understand.

The county health officer said that any person exposed to someone positive for COVID-19 should quarantine for 14 days, even if they go out and get a test showing they do not have the virus.

“Fourteen days is the maximum amount of time from being exposed to the virus where you could still develop symptoms,” Wilson said to explain the policy.

Ferniany said UAB Hospital is currently treating around 90 patients, down from a peak of 130. He relayed that 40 of the COVID-19 patients currently hospitalized are in the ICU.

RELATED: Alabama coronavirus update: Hospitalizations begin to decrease, new cases falling

The executive also said that the toughest aspect of caring for COVID-19 cases currently is the shortage of nurses. He said the hospitals he oversees are down “several hundred nurses” with the partial explanation that traveling nursing companies are luring workers away with higher wages.

Wilson reported additional good news for Jefferson County. He said that the area is not experiencing a higher rate of black citizens dying from COVID-19 than white citizens.

“So far we’re not seeing a racial disparity in terms of deaths in Jefferson County,” he relayed.

“Forty-one percent of our deaths in Jefferson County with COVID-19 are African American. The African American population is 43%,” Wilson stated.

Yellowhammer News asked Wilson what kind of benchmarks he would need to be passed to trigger a loosening of coronavirus precautions and whether that would be dependent on a vaccine.

“We’re not going to be out of the woods for quite a long time,” Wilson responded.

“The bottom line will be the amount of disease activity we have in the community, and the trajectory of that,” he continued.

With respect to the vaccine, Wilson replied, “It is really hard to predict what is going to happen with the vaccine: How effective is it going to be, how widespread we’re going to be able to vaccinate people and how soon. There are way too many unknowns for us to say much about that.”

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95