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July 24, 2020 COVID Stories

COVID Stories: In order to stay afloat, Bedlam Book Cafe moved online

Photo | Courtesy of Bedlam Book Cafe Nicole DiCello, owner of Bedlam Book Cafe
Photo | Courtesy of Bedlam Book Cafe Bedlam Book Cafe has had to change its layout since reopening during the coronavirus pandemic.
Photo | Courtesy of Bedlam Book Cafe

With the sudden closure of its store in March due to the coronavirus pandemic, used and rare bookseller Bedlam Book Cafe of Worcester had to rethink its business and shift to online platforms.

Owner Nicole DiCello had previously not wanted to create an online store. She wanted her store to be in person and more intimate. 

“I wanted the experience of the store to be in the store,” said DiCello.

However, COVID-19 forced her to reimagine the look of her store and redesign its online presence. 

Not only did she create a whole new website with a new domain, but she formalized a service where she will find and buy new books customers request and ship it to them. She will locate any used books a customer is looking for as well. 

Moving online included utilizing Bookshop LLC storefront capabilities for independent bookstores. Bookshop is an online bookstore where customers can still buy books online like they might go to Amazon to do, but on Bookshop’s website they directly support local and independent bookstores. 

However, it is hard for used bookstores to sell online because of the type of inventory they have. Bedlam has over 11,000 books, but they are mostly single copies of used books, said DiCello. 

To combat this, DiCello gets shipments of hurt and remaindered books, or books in like-new condition but have little creases or shelf wear.

These shipments gave DiCello bulk copies of different books and enough stock to make an online store. The online store went live in mid April.

She listed about 150 rare books on popular rare book dealing websites.

Along with new services and an online presence, DiCello got a federal Paycheck Protection Program loan to help keep the store in business. 

It did have three employees before the pandemic, but now DiCello is the only one working in the store other than Patrick Warner, her partner. 

In early June, Bedlam opened with a curbside pick-up only service. In-store operations began with the start of Phase Two of Gov. Charlie Baker’s economy reopening plan.

The store is only open Thursday through Sunday with limited hours. 

In order to open, DiCello had to change the layout of the store, which included removing and roping off seating areas, installing plastic barriers by the register, and adding directional arrows to help social distancing between customers. 

These modifications changed the vibe of the store, said DiCello. 

“It is an intimate space, and now there isn’t room to sit and hang out, which was definitely a big part of my business,” said DiCello. 

Not only did she have to make adjustments for the bookstore part of the store, but DiCello had to figure out how to adjust the cafe element as well. 

“It is like running two different businesses,” said DiCello. 

Photo | Courtesy of Bedlam Book Cafe
Bedlam Book Cafe has had a difficult time keeping its juice business going during the pandemic.

Because the juices it sells require a lot of fresh, local produce, the cafe has been the hardest part of the business for her to bring back though it is open just with limited options. 

“We rely on fresh ingredients, and if there aren’t a lot of people [in store] then they go bad,” said DiCello.

Bedlam did, however, continue its summertime shandy collaboration with Redemption Rock Brewing Co. of Worcester from last summer. It provides the juice and Redemption Rock provides the beer. 

The shandy collaboration is another way Bedlam has pivoted to find income during COVID-19. 

DiCello is not too worried about her business though because “the outlook for independent bookstores is very hopeful,” she said, “there is a surge of people going to and opening independent bookstores.” 

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July 24, 2020

My favorite bookstore!!!❤️

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