Always looking to support the community, popular Oak Park independent bookstore the Book Table now looks to the community for support to carry it through the remainder of the pandemic. Financial struggles caused by COVID-19 mitigations has prompted book-peddling duo Rachel Weaver and Jason Smith, the married couple who own the shop, to do something they tried hard to avoid — start a GoFundMe.
“We like to be the people that help. That’s always been the ethos of the store,” said Smith. “And it’s just not normally what we think of, to ask for donations.”
But the community is responding enthusiastically to the bookstore’s reluctant plea. Started by Weaver on Jan. 11, the GoFundMe accumulated almost $93,000 of its $250,000 goal in its first day.
“It’s one of those days where both Rachel and I have been in tears multiple times,” said Smith. “It’s very, very touching.”
The profoundly honest letter accompanying the campaign describes the Book Table’s situation from the beginning of the pandemic up until this point. Weaver didn’t shy away from including such delicate details as rent costs and property tax amounts the Book Table pays, explaining that, even though it might look like the Book Table is in good shape to the outside eye, its situation is more precarious than it appears.
“We’re worried that we have led you to believe that you don’t need to worry about us,” Weaver wrote, delving into heartfelt explanations as to why the long lines seen outside the Book Table around Christmas didn’t equal high sales figures; longer lines were due to greatly reduced in-store capacity limits, resulting from COVID-19. The influx of web orders in December seems like a good problem on the surface but orders were coming in faster than staff could fulfill them.
The letter also goes into detail about the lengths Weaver and Smith have gone to keep their business running, while keeping employees and customers safe, as well as the dire financial situation.
“We have a federal government that has not stepped up in order to help us in the ways we honestly need help,” said Smith.
While money given through the Payroll Protection Program (PPP) helped, the Book Table has thousands of dollars’ worth of inventory needing to be sold.
“There’s no government program that is well set up for an inventory-intensive business,” said Smith.
Neither the state of Illinois nor the village of Oak Park have the financial capability to help these particular businesses; it’s up to the federal government, Smith believes.
“We need the help now,” he said. “So we had to put out the call and we are just completely grateful by the first several hours of response.”
The holiday season is far and away the biggest time for retailers. Stores traditionally pull in favorable sales numbers during November and December, then retailers “muddle through” the rest of the year, according to Smith.
Located in the heart of downtown Oak Park at 1045 Lake St., the Book Table has lost significant business from closures of nearby restaurants and, in particular, the Lake Theatre. Foot traffic from people attending movies greatly supplemented the revenue generated by the bookstore’s regular customers.
If achieved, the $250,000 goal will allow Book Table to stay in business until 2022. And if it doesn’t come through?
“It’s a question that I’m not willing to answer yet,” Smith said.
Smith remains cautiously optimistic about the future. He expects the bookstore will receive another round of PPP and hopes for greater government assistance when President-elect Joe Biden takes office.
With donations pouring into GoFundMe from former employees and shoppers alike, Weaver and Smith are, as they always have been, grateful to the community.
“It’s amazing the support that this community has given us all these years,” said Smith. “We’re beyond thankful.”