Lawrence’s Raven Book Store sees success standing up to Amazon

photo by: Nick Gerik

The Raven Book Store, 6 E. Seventh St., is pictured Tuesday, July 16, 2019.

Lawrence’s Raven Book Store got a taste of “Christmas in July” this week when a bestselling author encouraged fans to spend their money at the shop’s website instead of with online retail giant Amazon.com.

Monday marked the beginning of Amazon’s annual Prime Day sales event, which offered Black Friday-type discounts and inspired protests by workers at the company’s fulfillment centers who were advocating for better pay and working conditions.

In solidarity with those striking workers, Texas-based author Shea Serrano put out a call Monday morning for an independent bookstore that his Twitter followers could patronize instead. A few minutes later, Raven owner Danny Caine replied, and soon the orders were pouring in online.

“Because of a very nice and very famous author, we were much busier than usual,” Caine said Tuesday.

By Tuesday morning, Caine said the Raven had logged 365 online orders — equivalent to the brick-and-mortar store’s biggest days during the holiday shopping season. The Raven’s previous record for online orders in a day was about 15, with maybe four on an average day, he said.

“I was just on Twitter all day, responding to people and thanking people,” Caine said. “It was a little bit of disbelief, watching it happen.”

“June and July can be hard months, with people on vacation and students not around. So it’s kind of a gift, to have a little bit of Christmas in July.”

Shea Serrano on Twitter

Caine said he had been familiar with Serrano before lightning struck on Monday. His books on rap and basketball have sold well at the Raven, and Caine is among the nearly 300,000 social media followers that Serrano often organizes into a self-proclaimed “army” of support for various online fundraisers. On Tuesday, the second day of Amazon’s Prime Day, a Chicago bookstore was the latest beneficiary of Serrano’s attention.

It may have been fitting that the Raven had such success at a time when Amazon was flexing its retail muscle. The bookstore went viral on Twitter earlier in the year after Caine posted his reaction to a customer who mentioned that she could get a new book for much cheaper on Amazon. The viral post, which has been shared more than 20,000 times, contrasted how the Raven and Amazon make their money and pointed out all the things done in communities by local booksellers that “those giant online booksellers have no interest in doing.”

Raven Book Store on Twitter

Caine on Tuesday emphasized that he’s not trying to shame anyone who buys from Amazon. Instead, he sees the Raven’s platform as a way to remind people that “Amazon has the power to put most retail small businesses out of business.”

“There was a time where people were fine, before Amazon, and it’s possible to order things online from places other than Amazon. It’s possible to keep jobs and culture and full storefronts in your town with your wallet, not shopping on Amazon,” Caine said.

Caine said that with each viral moment he hoped to continue to educate and encourage people to make good consumer choices.

“If I have the privilege to be able to make this kind of choice with where my money goes, I’m going to try to support places that value the same things that I do,” Caine said. “And it’s not just bookstores. It’s small businesses, it’s people that believe in supporting the arts, it’s people that believe in the local movement and good food. That’s what it comes down to for me.

“There are businesses that are doing great, but I fear what happens when we take it for granted that stores are here when we decide to ask Alexa to order us a case of toilet paper or that latest bestselling book.”

photo by: Nick Krug

Raven Book Store owner Danny Caine is pictured with one of the shop’s cats in this file photo from 2017.

The support from like-minded people that poured in Monday won’t be soon forgotten at the Raven.

Caine expects to add extra shifts as “many, many more books than usual” arrive in store and are put into envelopes, labeled and shipped out. And a physical reminder already sits in the store.

As orders stacked up Monday, Serrano joked that his followers deserved a championship banner or a trophy. So Caine, on his way back from the bank, stopped by the antique mall and came away with a small trophy that he used the shop’s label maker to dedicate to Serrano’s “army.”

“It’s a small thing, but we really do appreciate it,” Caine said. “If we can dedicate a small corner of the store to the people who helped us yesterday, I’m happy to do that.”

Raven Book Store on Twitter

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