Local Businesses and COVID-19: Elm Street Books


Elm Street Books. Credit: Michael Dinan

For today’s Q&A, we reached out to Elm Street Books owner Susan Rein and co-managers Manda Riggs and Melissa Thorkilsen. The store is open 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. for curbside pickup. (Those seeking to order books can do that through the Elm Street Books website or by calling 203-966-4545 or emailing children@elmstreetbooks.com or frontlist@elmstreetbooks.com.)

Here’s our exchange.

Elm Street Books. Photo courtesy of Melissa Thorkilsen

New Canaanite: How are you faring at Elm Street Books?

Susan Rein: We are closed to people coming into the store but we are answering the phones, responding to messages, taking orders on our website and through our emails and able to put books outside the door for people to pick up and we are mailing orders as well. Our sales are certainly not what they usually are but we are gratified that our customers seem to be anxious to keep reading and putting puzzles together and celebrated the arrival of the Easter Bunny, such that they are choosing to support the store in this unsettling time. We are hoping that, like us, our customers feel like our products are “essential” to their wellbeing and continued stimulation.

Nobody knows at this point how long the health-related restrictions will last. What is your sense now of the ability of Elm Street Books to outlast the crisis?

Rein: Since our customers are continuing to buy from us, we hope that we can outlast this crisis. While our sales are way down, we are keeping up with demand with just a few employees who can take the web orders, answer e-mails, keep up with social media and put the books out for customer pick up or order books to be mailed direct to our customers. Hopefully, we can keep this policy going until the crisis is over.

What has the community’s response to Elm Street Books been like?

Rein: We’ve been amazed and so gratified at the phone calls and emails and web orders we have received during the past three weeks. We really miss the daily conversations we usually have with our customers about the books they like and the ones we like and sharing those opinions a million times a day. We miss the canine customers who also have their own opinions, sometimes about books and sometimes about the dog treats we have that day. It’s the people contact that makes an independent bookstore what it is, and without that, we feel a little lost. But Manda talks to a wide number of customers every week-day from 10-2 and she fills that need for communication as best she can.

What are your top reading recommendations right now, fiction and nonfiction?

Manda Riggs: Non-fiction, “The Splendid and the Vile” by Erik Larson, “Untamed by Glennon Doyle, “Reflections of My Nonexistence” by Rebecca Solnit. Fiction, “Writers & Lovers” by Lily King, “In Five Years” by Rebecca Serle and “Redhead by The Side of the Road” by Anne Tyler. 

What’s your message to your customers?

Rein: We think about our customers every day and the books we would be recommending to them if they ran the little bell on our door. When we open again, there are so many good new books to discuss and authors to bring to town after sadly having to cancel so many interesting ones during the crisis. We can’t wait to get back to what we all love to do—discuss books with all comers and see them enjoy our gifts and cards to them as well. We hope all the puzzles and books we’ve sold during this time are entertaining all of them at home and they will have stories to discuss about what they’ve been doing during the time we’ve been away from each other.

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