News

Best Of Palo Alto: Iconic bookstore weathers pandemic without a single layoff

'Our team is stronger than ever'

Carolee Hazard, a bookseller at Kepler’s Books, prepares orders inside the Menlo Park store on June 2. The independent bookstore, which offers online and in-store service, plans to launch an open-air bookstore, which will be the first of its kind in the area. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

After the coronavirus hit the Bay Area, the halt of the local economy was swift and unprecedented. Over the past eight months, Midpeninsula businesses have had no idea how long or how extreme the impacts of COVID-19 might be. They've faced an unpredictable cycle of forced closures and partial reopenings — that at times have pivoted back and forth and back again within days amid changing health mandates, which have indefinitely extended shelter-in-place orders from weeks into months.

To salute their efforts, we are sharing the stories of how some businesses have responded to the coronavirus and taking a look at how our 2019 Best Of winners are doing a year later.

———

When the pandemic forced Kepler's Books & Magazines to close its doors to the public in March, the independent bookseller did what it's done many times over the past six decades: It adapted.

The Menlo Park store, facing a 40% drop in sales just two months into San Mateo County's shelter-in-place order, turned its focus to online sales and forged new relationships with its distributor and vendors to get books into customers' hands. Sales through Kepler's website quickly ballooned to more than 25 times of what the store sold online before the pandemic.

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"The amount of growth has been astounding. It has blown our minds," CEO Praveen Madan said in May.

Since then, the store has been able to reopen to the public, and in-store shopping has reclaimed a majority of sales — about 60%. The bookseller, however, is still experiencing 10 to 12 times the number of online orders than it did previously.

What's more, the bookseller has weathered the pandemic without laying off a single employee.

At a staff meeting in March, while facing dismal prospects and weeks of quarantine, employees voted unanimously to reduce their hours across the board to avoid layoffs, Madan explained.

"We set a simple goal at the beginning of the pandemic that we were going to keep our team together despite the shutdown and try to emerge stronger from this experience," he said. "This has proven to be a winning strategy. Our team is stronger than ever. We are collaborating wonderfully and able to innovate on many fronts."

While customers can once again browse the store's aisles to peruse thousands of titles in the revamped store, which has added MERV-13 medical-grade filters to its air-conditioning units to keep staff and guests safe, the bookseller is working on another shopping alternative: an open-air bookstore.

"Kepler's en plein-air," as Madan calls it, would once again transform the store to meet the needs of an ever-changing community of booklovers by bringing books outdoors, where the risk of spreading the virus would dramatically decrease.

View the rest of this year's Best Of listings here.

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Best Of Palo Alto: Iconic bookstore weathers pandemic without a single layoff

'Our team is stronger than ever'

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Sun, Jan 3, 2021, 8:13 am

After the coronavirus hit the Bay Area, the halt of the local economy was swift and unprecedented. Over the past eight months, Midpeninsula businesses have had no idea how long or how extreme the impacts of COVID-19 might be. They've faced an unpredictable cycle of forced closures and partial reopenings — that at times have pivoted back and forth and back again within days amid changing health mandates, which have indefinitely extended shelter-in-place orders from weeks into months.

To salute their efforts, we are sharing the stories of how some businesses have responded to the coronavirus and taking a look at how our 2019 Best Of winners are doing a year later.

———

When the pandemic forced Kepler's Books & Magazines to close its doors to the public in March, the independent bookseller did what it's done many times over the past six decades: It adapted.

The Menlo Park store, facing a 40% drop in sales just two months into San Mateo County's shelter-in-place order, turned its focus to online sales and forged new relationships with its distributor and vendors to get books into customers' hands. Sales through Kepler's website quickly ballooned to more than 25 times of what the store sold online before the pandemic.

"The amount of growth has been astounding. It has blown our minds," CEO Praveen Madan said in May.

Since then, the store has been able to reopen to the public, and in-store shopping has reclaimed a majority of sales — about 60%. The bookseller, however, is still experiencing 10 to 12 times the number of online orders than it did previously.

What's more, the bookseller has weathered the pandemic without laying off a single employee.

At a staff meeting in March, while facing dismal prospects and weeks of quarantine, employees voted unanimously to reduce their hours across the board to avoid layoffs, Madan explained.

"We set a simple goal at the beginning of the pandemic that we were going to keep our team together despite the shutdown and try to emerge stronger from this experience," he said. "This has proven to be a winning strategy. Our team is stronger than ever. We are collaborating wonderfully and able to innovate on many fronts."

While customers can once again browse the store's aisles to peruse thousands of titles in the revamped store, which has added MERV-13 medical-grade filters to its air-conditioning units to keep staff and guests safe, the bookseller is working on another shopping alternative: an open-air bookstore.

"Kepler's en plein-air," as Madan calls it, would once again transform the store to meet the needs of an ever-changing community of booklovers by bringing books outdoors, where the risk of spreading the virus would dramatically decrease.

View the rest of this year's Best Of listings here.

Comments

Joel
Registered user
Barron Park
on Jan 4, 2021 at 10:32 am
Joel, Barron Park
Registered user
on Jan 4, 2021 at 10:32 am
Like this comment

This Palo Alto Online news was, for me, the best I've read since becoming a member. I, actually, was interested in all of the articles which were educational and well edited. Thank you.


Just Sayin'
Registered user
another community
on Jan 4, 2021 at 10:50 am
Just Sayin', another community
Registered user
on Jan 4, 2021 at 10:50 am
6 people like this

So enterprising, creative, and caring! Bravo! THANK YOU. Gotta love Kepler's!


Linda Heiliger
Registered user
South of Midtown
on Jan 4, 2021 at 3:38 pm
Linda Heiliger, South of Midtown
Registered user
on Jan 4, 2021 at 3:38 pm
3 people like this

wonderful bookstore, and Kepler ’s bookstore is an integral part of us


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