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.
Letters to Editor
Lord Geoffrey Edward McCool says
A few of my friends, and there are only a few, seem to have significant laughs. Ron, Tom, Matt, Jeremy, they are happy people that share happiness with a laugh! They, and my books keep me alive!
Tom Canfield says
Great story telling from a classic human being.
Robbi Behr says
I remember when we had just come to Chestertown and put out our very first Idiots’Book – a small, saddle-stitched, silly little book that we trimmed and stapled on our dining room table – and Tom called us up and said he’d like to carry it at Bookplate. Apparently Marc Castelli had brought him a copy and told him what we were up to. We were so excited – it was truly the start to this whole crazy enterprise. To see it all come full-circle with Tom’s front window full of our books is a testament to the support Tom and this town have given us from the very start. So grateful to him for everything over the years! We are lucky to have such a treasure here in town.
Jamie Kirkpatrick says
The store and the man: both treasures!
Jenifer Emley says
Stu Cawley says
Tom & his wonderful staff contribute to the community in so many ways, it’s nice to hear that they’ve felt that support reciprocated through These Unprecedented Times.
Michael McDowell says
The Bookplate is a true jewel of Chestertown. My nephew, visiting from Oxford, England, less than two years ago, is an Old English, Norse, and Anglo Saxon scholar, and I introduced him to Tom, who immediately took Andrew (Andy) Orchard to the relevant section. There Andrew found a text he had been looking for and was very impressed that in a small town in America he could buy it and immediately did. Andy, is the successor to the historic professorship held by J R R Tolkien and like Tolkien a Fellow of Pembroke College. His brother Stephen, my sister’s older son, runs Basil Blackwell’s London book centre, and on a visit here, was equally intrigued and impressed by The Bookplate. Long may it thrive and Tom, a good friend, too.
Laura L. Wade says
The National Music Festival before Covid, I took a mentor musician my husband and I were hosting to the Bookplate. The musician, a gifted bassoon player, returned to our house with boxes of books. This gentleman lives in New York City and said, “this is better than any bookshop in NY”. I of course said, I know. After all this is Chestertown.