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Indie bookstores around Boston offer curbside pickup and delivery

Harvard Book Store
Harvard Book Store

Local independent bookstores have what you want right now.

They have books. Puzzles. Comics. That famous Stephen King novel about a super-flu that wipes out most of the world.

You know, pleasure reading.

The challenge is how to get this content to you amid a pandemic, but local creative booksellers are figuring it out.

Boston-area indies want you to know they’ll will make these sales happen; you don’t have to go to Amazon to get the content you need.

Porter Square Books, which closed Monday at 3 p.m., is still offering curbside pickups for customers. You can order online and they’ll get in touch when books are ready. Someone will walk the package out to you.

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Porter customers in Somerville and Cambridge can also get free book deliveries on certain days of the week; the store continues to update services on its website.

On Friday, Josh Cook, of Porter, said there was still foot traffic in the store. Perhaps slightly fewer customers than usual, but the people who showed up were buying a lot.

“It feels like people are stocking up," he said. "But it feels like at some point, that’s going to drop off.”

Cook said one of the first things Porter did was to put Bear, a large stuffed bear that’s popular with young customers, in seclusion. Right now, Bear can’t give hugs. It’s all about social distancing.

Bear will continue to make appearances on Porter’s social media, though. The store has big plans to engage with customers with videos, tweets, crowdsourcing, and book discussions.

“We’re going to trying to put out a lot more media,” Cook said. “A lot more video. Bookish content. People are going to want to come in and chat with us, and they won’t feel safe doing so.” (Cook read poetry on the store’s Instagram account on Friday.)

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Beth Ineson, executive director of the New England Independent Booksellers Association, said most bookstores are having similar experiences and coming up with new ideas to engage customers.

“I am hearing that from other stores — that while traffic is down, people are coming in and then buying books by the sackful, which is wonderful to hear, obviously. But I have mostly been impressed by how creative our stores are getting to meet their customers’ needs on every front," she said. "Stores that have online ordering capabilities are really doing a great job through social media, letting [people] know they are open for business to ship online. What I’ve noticed in last couple of days is stores getting fantastically creative about delivering. The curbside pickup has been a particularly wonderful thing to see.”

At Harvard Book Store, events were cancelled quickly, especially after Harvard University, a big part of its customer base, went remote. Sunday night, the bookstore closed to the public through Sunday, March 28. Harvard Book Store General Manager Alex Merriweather said shoppers should know there’s free shipping on any books ordered through harvard.com (the store’s website).

Asked how people can support indie booksellers as closures continue, Merriweather recommended libro.fm. It’s where you can listen to audiobooks and direct money to the indie store of your choice. There are a bunch of Massachusetts booksellers on the Libro list, including Silver Unicorn in Acton, An Unlikely Story in Plainville, Root and Press in Worcester, and East End Books in Provincetown. Libro put out a message Sunday saying, “Coronavirus is impacting independent bookstores near and far … When you start a membership with code SHOPBOOKSTORESNOW, you’ll get two audiobooks for the price of one ($14.99), and 100% of your payment” will go to the bookstore of your choice.

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It’s worth checking stores’ websites every day, as their hours and options might change quickly. An Unlikely Story in Plainville, the bookstore opened by “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” author Jeff Kinney, is closed through March 31, but is taking online orders. Trident Booksellers and Cafe tweeted Sunday, “We are open! Stop in and stock up, we’ve got everything you’d need for books, puzzles, games...really, we’re just a one stop shop!” They’re also doing book deliveries. Silver Unicorn posted a note to customers that they’d deliver to Acton, and that curbside pickup is available. Brookline Booksmith announced Monday morning that it had closed to the public, but would be filling online orders.

At Papercuts in Jamaica Plain, Kate Layte decided to shut down the store after a few hours on Saturday. As of Sunday, the store will be open by appointment only, to give her time to disinfect in between individual customers. She said she was also looking into creating subscription packages for customers to keep them entertained over time.

Papercuts moved from Jamaica Plain’s Green Street to 60 South St. in January. Layte is still hoping to have a celebration this spring.

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Ineson said the bookstores will do what they can to protect their long-term stability, and that every local reader can help. This isn’t just a few weeks of bad weather, she said — not like what local businesses experienced during the snowy winter of 2015.

“It feels different only because the stock market didn’t crash when it snowed in this part of the country," she said. “That was very, very localized to the Northeast.”

She said this might remind bookstores of 2008.

“That financial crash, which took an enormous toll on independent bookstores in the region ... we lost a lot of stores during that period of time, and the stores that are open now — many, many of which really struggled during that time and survived — are really drawing on some of that sort of creative, business-practice muscle memory.”

Layte said she might leave a bunch of free books on the curb of Papercuts over the next few weeks as she cleans out her own supply. She always has too many books, and other people need them.

“It’s not toilet paper that I’m hoarding, it’s books,” she said.