With Houston residents continuing to monitor the rain and rising floodwaters unleashed by Hurricane Harvey, booksellers in the city are working to reassert some semblance of normalcy.
On Monday, Murder by the Book in the West University neighborhood re-opened for business after having been closed for the Hurricane. “I would rather be up here,” said owner McKenna Jordan, who added that working is also nice since “it’s good for me to get out of the house.” The store was offering coffee, access to bathrooms and power outlets. “We know a lot of people are out of power and other people in the neighborhood have been stuck in their houses. We wanted to let people know they could come here charge their phone, relax a bit and be with other people.”
John Dillman kept the doors of Kaboom Books in the Heights neighborhood of Houston open for several hours on Sunday and Monday. “We haven’t had many customers, but we want to just show that life goes on. We want to show people that there is a bit of social coherence.” Dillman has previous experience with deadly storms, having chosen to move his store from New Orleans to Houston after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Elsewhere in Houston, River Oaks Bookstore also opened for several hours on Monday. Brazos Bookstore and Blue Willow Bookshop plan to re-open today. Each store reported little to no damage from the storm.
Further west in the nearby city of Katy, Richard Deupree, store manager of Katy Budget Books reported flooding in the areas adjacent to the store. On Tuesday morning, though, he said that the water had receded and he was “putting a plan together in an attempt to open with abbreviated hours.”
While no stores reported that any of their employees needed to evacuate their homes, several said they have employees who are not able to make it to work because of the flooding. “I live a half mile from the store, so I’ll be walking here, but I suspect we’re going to be running a skeleton crew for quite a while,” said Ben Rybeck, manager of Brazos Bookstore.
Valerie Kohler, owner of Blue Willow Bookshop noted that she was lucky. “The bottom half of my neighborhood is flooded, but my house is not. I can drive into work, but that is not the case for all of my employees.”
Murder by the Book’s Jordan said she also felt a sense of relief amid the chaos. Noting that the store has been damaged in previous storms, she said that, this time around, “95% of the store [has remained] bone dry. We have been very lucky.”
Many booksellers in the region have also begun efforts to help those in need. On Monday, Brazos Bookstore announced it will be donating 20% of all book sales (through Sunday) to the Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund.
There is also help being promised from further afield. Novelist Celeste Ng wrote on Twitter: “I’m going to order some diverse books and send them to schools that need them. You in? #smallacts“
Point Reyes Books in Point Reyes Station, Calif., is donating 20% of sales through the week to the Houston Food Bank. Coffee House Press in Minneapolis is also donating 20% of all sales through the week to Hurricane Harvey relief. Scholastic made a $25,000 donation to the Red Cross, and has committed to assisting schools with acquiring books. The Book Group literary agency will be matching all donations to the Houston Food Bank, up to a cap of $2,000.
Several other publishing organizations are expected to launch similar programs in the coming few days.
Amid all the turmoil and offers for help, Murder by the Book’s Jordan said that one thing local booksellers need to brace for, after the flood waters recede, is a hit to their customer base. “We anticipate a significant drop in sales revenue for the the foreseeable future,” she said. “The last thing the Houston community is going to be doing is buying books,” she added, saying that such purchases are “low on the list in a time of crisis.”
With this in mind, Jordan said that “just buying books from us, as normal, will be the biggest help of all.” She then added: “In the scheme of things, we know we are doing well. We have been really fortunate to have been spared so much that so many others have to endure.”