At Capsule, we are very interested in reaching out to small businesses who managed to remain open, working under new municipal guidelines and challenges to explore what encouraged them to continue functioning and what financial aid they got in return.
Borderland Books is a niche staple in San Francisco’s Mission District. For over two decades students, enthusiasts, and curious bystanders have graced the shop’s collection of horror, fantasy, and science fiction and mystery literature.
We caught up with shop owner, Alan Beatts for an insightful interview below in the current business local business climate.
Check out the interview below!
As a bookstore specializing in science fiction, horror and mystery you may have been more prepared to operate under these circumstances. Could tell us a bit about Borderland Books and how you operated before the pandemic?
Yeah, I think we actually were a little bit more ready for it. When you’re in this kind of business that I’m in, you’re pretty good at thinking about unusual circumstances and changing the framework in which you’re looking at the world because that’s the point of a lot of what we sell. In terms of what we are as a business, we are an open retail store. 90-95% of our business was over the counter. We had a small e-commerce sort of element but it wasn’t a major source of our business. We had an open bookstore 7 days a week from noon until 8 pm. Then obviously, we weren’t that after the shutdowns happened.
How many employees did you have on a normal business day before the shutdowns?
2 and a half. With me being around half the time.
Tell me about the readings and events you host.
We host a lot of book events. In fact we were in the process of doing a big event at the Castro Theater before all of this went down. But we agreed with them when it was clear it was not going to happen, to refund our deposit. Which was pretty fine of them.
Oh that’s nice. I saw that you had a zoom event, how is that?
They’re fine. They are what we have to work with now. One of them was a fundraiser and it was quite successful from a fundraising standpoint. In terms of other events it’s all been sort of a referral to the store, we haven’t actually put an event together. It’s been other organizations puting events together for us. We are going to be putting together our first crowd cast event with a publisher called Orbit Books.
Tell me about what kind of things you have to do to protect your business while operating during COVID-19?
Well, we enjoy really enthusiastic support from our customers. So, communicating with them is a pretty important part of it. Telling them what was going on, telling them how they could continue to make purchases from us. We worked with a company that essentially does a sort of commission model for ebook sales online. Something called Libre.fm. So we publicized that pretty vigorously. We also publicized our ecommerce options. And so we did a lot of business as mail order sales. I kept my staff on payroll throughout, which was something that we discussed. I kept them doing stuff from home. Redesigning our website. Developing further our social media sites and stuff like that. Then it was just a matter of seeing how the cards were going to play.
Did you have to apply to any payroll protection programs or any government loans?
I was waiting at seven in the morning to apply for the PPP loan at the beginning of April. And you know that was a challenging sort of process, I’m sure you’ve heard from clients that it was not a pleasurable process. We did not receive the initial loan, but when it was refunded we received our funding May 4th. So we did get our PPP loan.
What kind of process are you working with to move into reopening. Curbside pick up and online ordering as you mentioned?
Curbside pickup is nice because it involves substantially less overhead than doing mailorders. It’s a matter of selecting the books, running the credit cards and then the people show up. We don’t have to pack them. So we save on packing and shipping materials and we save a trip to the post office. That has streamlined things. The uptake on it has not been as enthusiastic as I expected. I’m not sure I would say I expected anything because as I said this is an unusual time and so I’m not trying to have a lot of expectations and more just go with what happens. But I think that the level of people going outside and doing curbside pick up has not been as high as some folks have expected. And it certainly hasn’t been very high compared to our normal amount of business.
Yes there have been challenges in terms of coming up with the procedures of how to do everything. How do we make sure the staff is safe, what policy needs to be set up…
In San Francisco per health code you have to assess every staff person’s condition before they arrive at work – making sure they all have thermometers at home. Teaching them that they need to text me every morning before they come to work with their temperature. And explain that they don’t have any symptoms of COVID-19. That was a bit of work for a week or two but now that everything is in place it’s going pretty smoothly.
Is there something you’d like to say to other business owners in the area or your community customers?
I would advise that for any business owner looking at their operation moving forward that you should go slowly and you should think things through carefully. You should think of the fact that it’s going to cost more to operate your business. No matter what your business was. Just you know, the amount of money we’ve spent on cleaning supplies, hand sanitizer, gloves and air filters alone is a beyond trivial amount of money and those expenses are not going to stop any time soon. So it’s become more expensive to run a business. All businesses actually. It’s going to take time, but go slow and think things through. I’m glad I did that, my approach is that if I don’t have to rush I do not. If you rush into something, it will not end well.