BEVERLY — While small businesses are suffering or closing due to the coronavirus pandemic, a bookstore in downtown Beverly is writing a different story.

Copper Dog Books is in the process of expanding its store on Cabot Street after experiencing a stunning growth in online sales. Since shutting down its in-person sales on March 22, on-line orders have increased from 20 per month to 400 per month, according to co-owners Meg Wasmer and Julie Karaganis.

The explosion in online sales has made up for the loss in in-person business and convinced them to expand at a time when many small businesses are struggling to survive.

"Our customers were supportive of us and it was fantastic, but it was us changing how we did business" that enabled the store to thrive, Karaganis said.

Copper Dog Books, which opened a year ago, had been in business for only eight months when the pandemic hit and stores were ordered to close. Karaganis and Wasmer, who both live in Beverly, posted a message on Facebook telling customers they needed $500 per day in online orders to stay in business.

"We got $8,000 of orders in the next two days," Karaganis said. "It just exploded."

Now the onus was on the small independent store to transition to an order fulfillment and shipping business. State restrictions at first allowed only the two owners to be in the bookstore for the first six weeks of the shutdown, so they worked six days a week to handle all of the shipping duties. While Wasmer perfected the online ordering system and packaging, Karaganis, and eventually the store's part-time employees, did local deliveries themselves.

At one point, Karaganis gave her daughter a package when she went out to walk the dog and told her to deliver it to a neighbor. "I told her it's a family business," Karaganis said.

The store has also fulfilled orders from Florida and Hawaii.

The owners said they were helped by the fact that Amazon was not prioritizing book deliveries in April and May because it was overwhelmed with other orders. Copper Dog Books also received government loans designed to help small businesses during the pandemic. The money enabled the store to retain their part-time booksellers and will help them buy Plexiglas barriers and other safety elements to be able to reopen safely.

The current expansion project will increase the size of the store, located at 272 Cabot St., from 1,000 square feet to 1,800 square feet. It will allow for the construction of an office where the online deliveries can be processed, and will also provide more space for displays and for social distancing once the store reopens. The plan is to re-open in about a month.

Beth Ineson, executive director of the New England Independent Booksellers Association, said Copper Dog's situation is not unusual. She said independent bookstores have had to reinvent their business models "overnight" and embrace online sales.

"The stores, like Copper Dog, who have been most successful at this effort are the ones who punch above their weight when it comes to digital marketing and social media," Ineson said in an email. "Copper Dog is a perfect example of a store that did this and made the most of the difficult situation."

While Wasmer and Karaganis plan to continue with online sales as a significant part of their business, they're also excited to get back to the type of personal, in-person service for which small independent book stores are known. Wasmer said customers will regularly walk by, look in the window and ask if the store is open.

"People are ready to come back," she said.

Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2535 or pleighton@salemnews.com.

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