Boxed Out: 4 Bookstores in L.A. During COVID-19

Kayla Vokolek
7 min readOct 27, 2020

I acknowledge that pleas to support independent bookstores, especially during the pandemic, are nothing original. Just recently, The New York Times highlighted how crucial it is to support local bookstores. And the American Booksellers’ Association, or the ABA, recently launched their “Boxed Out” campaign to encourage people to shop indie, complete with cardboard installations covering bookstores across the country, indicating how indie bookstores have been shut out by Amazon deliveries. So while articles like these may sound repetitive, as the pandemic wreaks havoc on the economy, while billionaires get even richer, it’s become vitally important to sound the alarms to support indie booksellers right now. According to the CEO of ABA, Allison K. Hill, “More than one indie bookstore a week has closed since the Covid-19 crisis began.”

Even as a bibliophilic creative writing graduate, it’s easy for me to take local bookstores for granted until they’re threatened. Upon hearing proclamations over how dire circumstances have become and not wanting my community to lose more indie bookstores, I interviewed four different booksellers in my area. Of course, these profiles represent only a fraction of the numerous independent bookstores across the greater Los Angeles area.

Bel Canto Books, Long Beach

Owner/manager Jhoanna Belfer at Bel Canto Books. Photo credit to Bel Canto Books.

Bel Canto Books is “a proudly woman- and POC- owned independent bookstore” and particularly tries to promote books by marginalized groups. It is located within The Hangout, “a women-led shop collective in Long Beach CA that includes Bel Canto Books, a plant store called the Golden Garden, and vintage and lifestyle finds from The Hangout.” These shops allow for a variety of self-nurturing products that are badly needed during these times; Belfer noted that plants, cookbooks, travel books, and children’s books have been particularly sought out, although anti-racist, #ownvoices, and U.S. history books have also been more popular than usual.

Bel Canto Books’ retail space was closed from early March to May, plummeting sales eighty to ninety percent and prompting a book concierge service with free local delivery. Beyond this initiative, partnerships with and Bookshop, online events, and socially distanced shopping have also helped with sales and connection to the community…

Kayla Vokolek

Creative writing grad located in LA