COVID Invades the Neighborhood #2 (How Yong Books Responded)
Maintaining Trust After COVID
All meetings were promptly canceled upon hearing about the spread of COVID. Most meetings were small, safe gatherings that consisted of about seven known members, but Yong Books chose to prepare for the worst-case scenario. Most visitors agreed with the cancellation of meetings. While it was inevitable that the store would take some losses, there was no way customers could be sacrificed for the sake of profits. I needed to prove to customers that Yong Books did not simply view them as tools for making money. I thought that the only thing I could do was rebuild on the foundation of what we had already established. In any case, Yong Books halted all meetings, just like other bookstores. On some days there were no customers at all except for some warmhearted neighbors who stopped by to bring food. Through social media, I heard that several well-known bookstores were closing down. Many small spaces that had fought to survive for a long time were powerless to stay afloat in the face of COVID-19.
Connection - Online
I couldn’t just sit by and wait, blaming customers for not visiting the store. One regular called Hyo shared a lecture on online store marketing he had been studying, and this naturally led me to focus my available time on setting up an online store. I created a space for Yong Books through the Smart Store service provided by Naver, and began uploading books that had previously only been available for offline sale. This made it easier to do business with people who had been unable to visit Yong Books due to distance, and the decision proved to be popular. On the internet, there was no distinction between the local neighborhood and other areas. Some orders came from as far away as Jeju Island. I had thought about building an online store before COVID-19, but always hesitated. Now that I had taken action due to the pandemic, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
Relationships - Member System
There is a Korean word called ‘ungim’. It is a pure Korean word that refers to the power or atmosphere created when people gather together. This was the nickname used by one member of the transcription meeting at Yong Books. As I began to spend more days alone at the store due to COVID, I found myself often thinking about the concept of ungim. Being unable to meet made me feel the power we had created together more deeply. I thought that perhaps ungim was the reason I had continued to run Yong Books, and the reason I would be able to stay in business in the future. That was the inspiration for creating the first membership system for Yong Books, which I called the ‘Ungim system’. ‘Ungim membership’ is a prepaid service. Members pay a certain amount upfront, and then use the funds to purchase the books they need or books recommended by the store. Membership is an expression of commitment to make future purchases from Yong Books, and a message of support. Although everyone was struggling due to COVID, Yong Books soon had around 40 Ungim members. This granted the store a small reprieve.
Local Humanities Lectures
Several small stores in the neighborhood have closed since the pandemic. While Yong Books is still not out of the woods yet, I decided to push ahead with a local humanities program I had been planning at the beginning of the year. In partnership with Erasmus, a humanities research institute, I began preparing four lectures on reading, the humanities, video filming and screenplay writing. In light of COVID, they were on/offline lectures using Zoom. I launched the courses for Bucheon residents, and they all filled up within a day. Locals welcomed the lectures after being unable to get together for some time, and they took place amidst a friendly atmosphere. Of course, sales also began to pick up as the number of visitors to the store increased. Having more customers may have provided some assistance to nearby cafes or other spaces as well. If meetings can be held while taking all possible prevention measures such as hand sanitizing and wearing masks, it would clearly help to stave off the COVID blues. This could serve as a kind of ‘vaccine’. The first round of the local humanities lectures is now finished, and season two is getting underway At the same time, I am working on a new local ‘reading university’ program. The main idea is that the local area must stay alive in order for the small spaces within it to keep breathing. This is why Yong Books continues to come up with programs for the local community.
Regular Customers Over Time
Regular customers were the reason why Yong Books was able to resume meetings and try out new things They went out of their way to visit the store, buying books without any discount and taking part in groups. Could we have stayed together without the trust we had built up prior to COVID? This is the advantage of community-based spaces - the fact that people know each other. Instead of an anonymous relationship, it’s a relationship where the store owner and customers share their daily lives with each other. This kind of relationship shines the brightest during a crisis. In the end, COVID served as an opportunity to confirm the trust that Yong Books had built up with customers over time. I am grateful to you all.