Tom Martin closed the doors to the Bookplate in March 2020 and wondered, like so many business owners, when, or even if, the shop would open again.
As the pandemic spread unabated and Maryland showed signs of rising Covid-19 positivity, businesses struggled to figure out ways to survive. Clearly, online commerce would become a lifeline for many.
Martin went through the mandatory hard closure mandated by Maryland Governor Hogan. Still, while his doors were closed for business, he attended to online book sales for 8-10 hours a day and getting orders out to a growing public of readers.
“Thankfully, I’ve been selling books online for years, so that was an easy transition,” he says.
Martin says that one of the largest saving graces to appear during the closure was Mainstreet’s “Buy Now, Enjoy Later” gift card program, where customers pre-paid to shop later.
“It was a humbling show of support. I was amazed by this program and how substantial the checks were. It really helped us out during the worst part of the closure.”
As late summer approached, Martin decided to wait a bit longer than the State’s allowance for business openings. With newly installed air filtration systems and wall-mounted hand sanitizer stations in place, the Bookplate gradually allowed shoppers on the premises.
Nevertheless, some aspects of the shop are changed forever. For almost two decades, the Bookplate has offered the back room of the shop as a venue for many special events like the Pat Harold Nielson Poetry Night, Kent County Poetry Festival, and author’s readings with the likes of Paul Muldoon and Michael Dirda. However, the surge in online book buying has required the back room for additional inventory.
“I will miss the great fun we had hosting events. Who can forget the town lights going out during Michael Dirda’s reading and continuing by flashlight? Hopefully, we will continue to find ways to sponsor events, maybe at Kent Cultural Alliance or other spaces here in the community.”
Still, the Bookplate continues to promote local writers and artists. Robbi Behr and Matthew Swanson (Idiot Books) have been showcased at the Bookplate for years. Other artists are represented by Bookplate greeting cards and posters for sale.
With vaccine and growing immunity on the horizon, Martin looks to the future with hope tempered by a streak of uncertainty as we all look to reclaim our community spaces, our shops, and some sense of normalcy.
Here, Tom Martin describes the last year of trying to survive selling books through the pandemic.
This video is approximately nine minutes long. More information about the Bookplate is available on their Facebook page.