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  • The pandemic-induced economic crisis is affecting almost every Victoria business. At Munro's Books, online sales help, but losses will be significant.

    Marilyn McCrimmon



    Munro’s Books has temporarily become an online bookstore.


    MANAGING PARTNER JESSICA WALKER describes the day she had to phone the part-time employees, as well as some full-time employees, to let them know they were laid off, as one of the worst days of her life. “There is just not enough work for everyone.” Nor revenue.

    In early March they learned that the cruise ships were cancelled, prompting Walker and the remaining full-time staff to start preparing for a new reality. The store closed to the public on March 15.



     Jessica Walker


    “The first week, the numbers were scary, but more and more people are getting comfortable with online buying,” says Walker. Staff got used to their new jobs as the store switched to a warehouse model, taking orders on the phone and on the web, and reduced hours.

    “It’s not just about getting through the next six weeks,” Walker cautions, “it’s getting through the summer.” With the move online, their social media presence has become more important. Munro’s is active on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, and the store always had a good website, but it didn’t feature all of their stock. That is changing. 

    “We are putting lists on the website. We’re trying to recreate the store experience,” explains Walker. Besides ever-popular lists of staff picks, they’ve posted a list of titles of the first books in an author’s series, to introduce readers to new authors. Jigsaw puzzles, children’s books, and books on baking, especially books on bread-making, are currently popular as people seek ways to keep themselves and their kids busy at home.

    Financially, it’s too early to say precisely how badly the store will be affected, but Walker says it is a dramatic change. She acknowledges that Munro’s losses will be “pretty significant,” and going into the summer, the losses will increase. “Five thousand cruise ship passengers a day are not coming this summer.” Anyone who has visited the crowded store in the summertime will know that Munro’s is a favoured destination for Victoria’s cruise ship tourists. Walker reiterates, “It is going to be a long-term significant impact.” Munro’s will apply for Federal Government assistance once applications are available. 

    Asked about expenses beyond staff, including rent, Walker responds: “We’ve certainly been looking at every expense, big and small. We are very fortunate that the Munro family own the building and are willing to work with us to make sure we get through these difficult times.

    Safety protocols are being maintained within the store, but Walker is keeping an eye on the staff. “It is stressful. The job is more labour intensive. People are learning new jobs.” She laughed when she said some staff are loving being able to play whatever music they want while they work. 

    Munro’s staff is grateful to their customers who have been offering amazing support. “Victoria is such a great book town,” acknowledges Walker. 

    Customers can have books mailed to them or contactless pick-up is available during the store’s open hours. Once you knock on the door and give your name, your order will be placed on a stool outside the door. 

    When asked if she had ever experienced anything like this in her life, Walker says, “No, never. Nothing like this.” Then she compared it to a natural disaster, “a hurricane without the weather—the roof is still on.” A perfect metaphor for these times. 

    Marilyn McCrimmon is a native Victorian and freelance writer. She has written for Focus since its inception in 1988.



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