SALT LAKE CITY — For Central Book Exchange, surviving the economic crash of the pandemic that came close to wiping out other local independent bookstores required bravery and flexibility, but owner Pam Pedersen never had a doubt they would make it through.
“I’m in love with this bookstore,” Pedersen said. “We have a little of everything. It was a rough couple of months, but things have been really good even through August and into September.”
When the shop at 2017 S. 1100 East in Salt Lake City was closed to the public, customers could still make personal appointments to browse. When social distancing wasn’t feasible within the small shop, the staff organized a large parking lot sale. And when customers couldn’t browse in person, the store relied on its online presence.
Even when income was down to about one-third of its usual flow, Pedersen kept all the employees on who wanted to work. They took the time to do long-term projects and push their online catalog to make the shop as effective as possible.
They were also able to get a small loan with help from Zions Bank to keep the store afloat. “That tiny little loan made all the difference for us,” Pedersen said.
Since she came into ownership of the store, Pedersen has made a point to look forward. Over the past 15 years, she has made an effort to develop creative and flexible strategies to keep the store alive and thriving.
A lot of people use books as an anchor to keep them sane in a healthy way. Books connect us through generations, connect us with our youth, and help us to pass knowledge and understanding to future generations.
–Pam Pedersen, Central Book Exchange
A large part of that is being a part of both the physical and online communities as much as possible. The store has become a community center that draws in people from all over the country.
“People stuck with us the whole time,” Pedersen said. “People always have to make decisions about how they’re going to spend money. (Buying books) starts to feel as necessary as groceries.”
The staff has been closely following the status of other bookstores in the area that are in danger of closing, hoping that those stores will be able to be brave and weather the storm.
“When you go into a new town, you can judge what that place is like based on the bookstores in that town. If places like that are allowed to close, our whole city will suffer,” Pedersen said.
Independent bookstores, in particular, are irreplaceable in communities, Pedersen says, especially in a society that is desperate for connection and escape.
“A lot of people use books as an anchor to keep them sane in a healthy way. Books connect us through generations, connect us with our youth, and help us to pass knowledge and understanding to future generations,” she said.