By Madeleine Hill Vedel
Having more time to read helped me get through more than 90 days of Michigan Governor Whitmer’s Stay at Home order. And I am clearly not alone. Tina Greene-Bevington, owner of Bay Books in Suttons Bay, spun into gear even before the official shut down began. With family and friends all over the world, she had been following the COVID-19 stories avidly. Closing her shop doors on March 10, she put out the word via social media that she would take requests and orders by phone, preparing personalized book bags for a contactless pick-up from the front stoop of her village shop, or during the road work down St. Joseph, in the alley behind the shop. Into these bags she would add a few extra goodies beyond the purchased books, including the most recent issue of a local periodical or a book mark. “You have to pivot, you have to provide a service. I did a lot of porch side pick-up. And sometimes I would decorate their bags with stickers and ribbons.”
One local client, Kathy Sehnert, was so grateful for Tina’s efforts to get her books that she left a bag of cookies as a thank you. “What I do during the pandemic is bake and give away—Tina was a recipient.” Kathy said. “Not only was she a great resource, she recommended books, knowing what I love to read.” And when asked for a possible number of books purchased during the pandemic Stay at Home order, “I have no idea—25 or 30? I can’t remember. But I would pick my books up when I went to town to get groceries.”
For those who were hesitant to leave their homes, Greene-Bevington expanded her offer to include personal deliveries within a 25-mile radius of the shop, going out every morning between 10 and noon.
“I started delivering [by car] right away, the week of [March] 15. I started posting ‘home deliveries within 20 miles’, which took me all over the county to parts I don’t typically see. Everyone was so welcoming. People would come to their windows and wave. I’d step back and do a book lady dance—jazz hands and Charlie Brown hop. It was fun. You’ve got to spread happiness where you can.”
The Stay at Home order affected all of our local businesses. In Greene-Bevington’s case, prospective clients could no longer come into her shop to browse the shelves. They could no longer linger over a cup of coffee and chat about possible titles, mining her knowledge and recommendations. So Greene-Bevington further tapped her creative juices. When a client called requesting advice on a certain genre of book to offer her husband, she put a range of options in her shop window for the woman to peruse. For another she photographed her shelves of children’s’ books, or mysteries, or non-fiction, sending them by phone and email. Inspired, she rearranged the shop windows weekly, changing the featured genres, from fiction one week to meditation and health the next. She stocked up on games and puzzles and made these available to the house-bound, spreading the word by making video commenting on them.
“I even read stories through the windows via cell phone, Hop on Pop and Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss,” Greene-Bevington said. “I started responding to Instagram, Facebook, all social media any time of the night or day. People would call and I would respond. It’s what you have to do. You have to make yourself available to people. To stay alive. Teachers would contact me, ‘I need ACT Prep manuals,’ or ‘books to read to my 4th graders.’ ‘I need books that support this curriculum…’ And then there were people who hiked a lot seeking books for kids to hike and forage. I have those, they’re all there.”
Six days a week, by herself as she could not ask her employees to stay on in such an uncertain climate, Greene-Bevington filled a need and kept her little business viable.
At first her actions were a local phenomenon, but then she started getting requests all over the state, particularly when she decided to include free shipping. One happy recipient, Kathleen Neuman of Detroit, became her ardent supporter. Having lost her local Barnes & Noble, and not having another independent bookstore nearby, Neuman reached out to Greene-Bevington, having visited her shop during a summer visit up north: “Bay Books is my book store now. When the pandemic happened and all the small businesses were hit, I decided I am not going to order from Amazon. I’m going to order from Tina,” said Neuman. “I’m a book addict. When I read a review, I don’t put it on a list, I just get it. Tina is wonderful. When I call her if she doesn’t have it she orders it for me and ships it to me. I want her to stay open so this is in my best interest too.”
Now that the most restrictive period of the pandemic has passed, at least for the moment, Greene-Bevington is following Centers for Disease Control recommended instructions as she opens back to the public: masks are required, only two people in the shop at any one time, and your hands get personally spritzed with sanitizer as you walk in.
However, this is a year of movement for Bay Books in multiple ways. The shop is changing its physical address. The building in which it has been housed these past couple of years is for sale. Greene-Bevington has gratefully accepted the offer of the Bahle family to take over the lease of the retail space formerly inhabited by Nifty Things, 220 North St Joseph, south of her current address, on the bay side of the street.
There will be an informal (or formal!) book parade on July 4 co-orchestrated by Bahle and Greene-Bevington to move all the inventory down the street. Extra hands are welcome! Check in with Bay Books for more details, and for a book recommendation. The shop is scheduled to re-open at the new location on July 12. Visit Bay Books online at BayBooksMI.com.
Correction: an earlier version of this story, including the version that appeared in our July 1 print edition, erroneously reported that the building previously occupied by Bay Books has been sold. In fact, it is still for sale. We regret the error.