Editorial Director of The Head and The Hand, a nonprofit bookstore at 2644 Coral St.
Interviewed in June 2021
Editor’s note: The following responses have been edited for clarity and brevity.
1. How were things for you and your business in the beginning of the pandemic? How would you compare the state of your business from then to now?
Well, at the beginning of the pandemic, we had a major distributor called Ingram that sends books D-to-C (direct-to-customer). In order to survive, we had to continue to sell to our customer base. Being able to have Ingram fulfill all those orders, it was just absolutely critical. We were able to continue to offer a diverse array of books and titles because we’re a small footprint. Our store isn’t very big. But, because we’ve partnered with Ingram, we’re able to order virtually any title someone wants.
I would say the second thing that really saved us at the beginning of the pandemic was the idea of renting out the bookstore for either private browsing or for an initiative we call “Date Night,” which became one of our most popular programs. Basically, you and your date can rent out the bookstore for two hours in the evening. We provide a table, complimentary beverages, and a customized music playlist.
It was important to maintain that connection to the people that were supporting us the whole time during a [period]when people might not have a lot of disposable income, but they still decided to support a local bookstore. So that was really, really gratifying.
2. Can you describe how the City of Philadelphia has supported business owners throughout the pandemic? Have you felt supported by the city?
Well, we’re a little bit different, because we’re not for profit. We get funding from the Philadelphia Cultural Fund, and we’re under the fiscal sponsorship of CultureWorks Greater Philadelphia. Because we are under their sponsorship, we can apply for certain grants, some of which are from the City. But again, I would say we were more reliant upon individual supporters, like our writers that we’ve worked with.
3. Can you share your experience with managing safety in your business throughout the pandemic? (mask mandates, capacity restrictions, social distancing, etc.)
We had simple safety measures, made sure that everybody was masked, and we cleaned as much as possible. People were very supportive of us. We didn’t have any customers come in and argue with us about the policies.
4. Can you share any moments in the last year where you faced a challenge that required you to find new ways to operate due to the pandemic?
We definitely thought more about outdoor programming because it’s important for us to have programs like author readings. Most recently, we had an amazing local author named Sarah Jacoby, who just published her latest children’s book, “Can I Sit with You,” in April. She lives in Kensington and wrote and illustrated this book, and she did an author reading and signing in the parking lot area between the Kensington Community Food Co-op and the bookstore.
We also did an outdoor programming collaboration with the Philadelphia Goat Project, which took place at Sunflower Hill, one of our favorite partners. We did a Philadelphia-themed version of the Billy Goats Gruff, called the “Philly Goats Gruff,” using their goats as the goats in the story. I think that figuring out creative ways to be outside in a safe way, while also supporting authors and artists [helped us] to expand our definition of what an event was.
5. What is the best way for people to support your business?
Be aware of small businesses, especially if there’s an opportunity to go out to an event that they’re doing. Try to be aware of how to receive information from your local small businesses. We work really hard to keep our Instagram up to date and full of useful information. Not just about our organization, but what others are doing in the literary arts in Philly.
You can also support The Head and The Hand by donating to them directly through their website.
Editors: Khysir Carter, Jillian Bauer-Reese, Solmaira Valerio, Zari Tarazona / Designer: Henry Savage