Off-Season Selling

  • By John Adam Wasowicz
  • November 30, 2018

How beachside bookstores weather the winter.

Off-Season Selling

In fall and winter, the sun still shines brightly on sand-covered beaches. Waves still ebb and flow. And while colorful umbrellas no longer dot the sand, and suntanned bodies don’t stroll the boardwalk, businesses must still make a living. And that includes bookstores.

Maintaining a bookstore is a full-time occupation in big cities and college towns, as owners and employees organize new book clubs, arrange author appearances, and otherwise cook up ideas to bring in crowds. But how do bookstores at the beach survive in the off-season? The answers might surprise you.

"While it could once be said that the Outer Banks turned into a ghost town from October to June, that's simply no longer the case," explains Meaghan Beasley of Island Books, with stores in Duck, Nag’s Head, and Corolla along the North Carolina shore.

"The fall and spring seasons get longer and livelier every year. Almost every weekend, one can find a festival, a craft show, a band, or a food/wine event to attend. These extra events, combined with the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, keep customers coming to our shores,” she says.

Of course, “Once they get here and realize that our off-seasons are an endless cold, blustery nor'easter, they usually find their way to us for books because what else are they going to do, go to the beach?"

Jane Richstein, who operates Sundial Books on Chincoteague Island, VA, with her husband, Jon, agrees about the need for a perpetual presence. Contrary to popular belief, successful bookselling at the beach is not a seasonal undertaking.

“We strongly believe that bookstores need to be open year-round, even if the population diminishes significantly in the winter months,” says Richstein. “While the fall is not as busy as the summer, there are still people coming for vacation through Thanksgiving. We are fortunate in that our primary beach area is a national refuge that attracts nature lovers throughout the year.”

Adds Susan Kehoe, managing partner of Browseabout Books in Rehoboth Beach, DE, “We are very lucky that Rehoboth has become a year-round community, and almost all businesses in town remain open. Our locals come out as soon as the meters go off in town. We receive new books, stationery, gifts, and toys every day. Our book club meets during the off season, [and] we support our local schools with book fairs.”

For these hardy coastal businesses, even extreme weather is rarely a deterrent.

“We've been known to close for hurricanes and the occasional blizzard,” says Beasley, of Island Books, “but we find that we [still] have a plentiful amount of year-round residents, teachers and students, and book clubs who come to us for their reading needs. If we were closed, it's one more reason for them to go elsewhere.”

Not to mention, she adds, “staying open insures that our staff can look forward to a paycheck through the bleak winter months."

Cold-weather slowdowns do happen, however, which is why savvy shopkeepers modify their schedules and capitalize on lulls.

“We close two to three days a week from November to March,” says Sundial’s Richstein. “We use the time to procure and process used books, take care of maintenance tasks, assess inventory, and generally catch our breath before we start the seven-day-a-week schedule again.”

And while no small business — literary or otherwise — can navigate the doldrums forever, bookstore owners may be uniquely appreciative of the sluggish months. It’s then, says Beasley, that “we all get a chance to catch up on our reading."

John Adam Wasowicz is author of Daingerfield Island.

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