Local bookstores turn the page on COVID-19

CHARLOTTE SUN, AUGUST 15, 2020. PUNTA GORDA. by Patrick Obley [excerpt]  

Ring the bell on the counter at 5240 Duncan Road, and Heidi Lange will answer it.

She might have a half-finished face mask in her hand. A professional seamstress longer than she has been a bookstore owner, Lange can often be found stitching together face coverings between the dings at Sandman Books, located east of downtown Punta Gorda.

Lange’s family-owned enterprise moved to its new location on the edge of Punta Gorda a year ago and by February, she was beginning to think things were taking off.

Not so fast, said the coronavirus. Fortunately, she had a sewing needle handy.

“We actually would not have made it, but I’m also a seamstress and that’s pretty much what I’ve been doing for the last six months,” Lange said as she sat in her office while working on another of the many masks she sells in the shop and online. “Honestly, had it not been for that, it would be tight.”

Online sales have been a revenue stream for some time now, but they have added local delivery and curbside pickup to their operations. Sandman delivers anywhere in a 15-mile radius with orders of $25 or more while offering free shipping on any orders over $35.

Lange, ever watchful over what people are buying at any given time, has been especially interested in what has been selling during the pandemic.

“People are at home watching TV and binging shows or movies, and people are wanting to read the books the shows are based on,” she said. Lange mentioned shows such as “The Witcher,” “The Expanse” and “Altered Carbon.” She is currently trying to get ahead of the demand for the latest book adaptation to hit the streaming services, “The Baby-Sitters Club.”

But there was a lag before books really began to sell again. In the gap between the shutdown and the phased re-opening, something curious happened.

“Sometimes, I feel like we’ve just turned into a puzzle dealer instead of a bookstore,” Lange said.

As book sales pick up, Lange has noticed an overall theme to the purchases in her shop that is in line with the book adaptations.

“I noticed, too, people are reading more fantasy, more romance, more escapism,” she said. “Not a whole lot of nonfiction right now. I think people are just done. They need a break.”

The genres are a great fit for Southwest Florida’s largest independent bookstore. The dark-stained shelves of reclaimed wood surround a massive set of arches constructed of books destined for recycling. A snaking dragon made of books floats over the shelves near the back of the store. Throughout the store are sitting areas with light fixtures and other features meant to evoke a Victorian steampunk feel.

“I thought to myself, if Aquaman had a library, what would it look like?” Lange said with a laugh.

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