How Austin's BookPeople navigated a pandemic closure, celebrated a big birthday and prepared for a holiday season unlike any other
Prior to the pandemic, a committee of BookPeople employees were tasked with planning a series of celebrations in honor of the local business' 50th anniversary on Nov. 11.
Instead, the team scrapped its plans and converted the business—which used to do around 5% of its sales online and hosted more than 300 in-person events a year—into an online machine, offering curbside pickup, worldwide delivery and three or four virtual programs a week.
"When I look back, I think that the beginning part of the year is super clear in my mind," Director of Kids Events and Marketing Eugenia Vela told Austonia, recalling the day in March when the bookstore closed its doors temporarily. "But then in the last few months, it's just such a blur."
Now, just over the hill and perhaps feeling a bit more aged than anticipated, BookPeople is preparing for the next 50 years.
In Austin @BookPeople is a community treasure. Please support them by selling out these signed copies of… https://t.co/JneuMOcXZk— Dan Rather (@Dan Rather)1605556204.0
After local officials announced the cancellation of SXSW in March, BookPeople briefly offered curbside pickup before closing its doors. "It was a sad day because we just didn't know what was coming," Vela said.
Since then, the business has cycled through a partnership with bookshop.org, which offers independent booksellers a way to profit off of online sales, while preparing to reopen for in-person shopping and rebuilding its website to double as an e-commerce platform.
"Suddenly, we were having to do 100% of our sales through our website," Vela said.
Throughout this experience, however, BookPeople has felt the support of its customers, who have tuned in for story times on Instagram Live and committed to shopping local.
Local authors, including Dan Rather, Matthew McConaughey and Austin Kleon, have helped spur sales by donating autographed copies of their books and dropping in—virtually—on their book tours.
"We did see great support," Vela said. "You can't compare it to the 'before times,' really. We're trickling back up there where we used to be."
Despite challenges, including Zoom fatigue, the pandemic revealed silver linings, such as the possibility of a global audience for its online events. Recently, the store hosted a children's story time featuring an author in England.
Another bright spot is the upcoming holiday season, on which the success of local businesses often hinges.
BookPeople is now again open to the public, with occupancy limits and other precautions in place. It encourages customers to shop early to avoid certain pandemic challenges, such as shipping delays and breaks in the publishing supply chain.
"The holidays are so crazy to begin with and then you add a global pandemic," Vela said.
For those hoping to browse in person, Vela recommends visiting the store during weekdays, when patrons are less likely to encounter a socially distanced line out the door.
Online buyers can order directly from the store's new website, which offers subscription services such as BookPeople in a Box—with titles chosen by your local bookseller—and Amplify, which focuses on Black, indigenous and other authors of color.
For now, BookPeople's most popular titles of the year remain in stock. They include McConaughey's memoir "Greenlights"; Kleon's creativity guides; the first volume of Barack Obama's presidential memoirs, "A Promised Land"; and the novels "The Vanishing Half" by Britt Bennett and "Mexican Gothic" by Silvia Moreno-Garcia.
When shopping, Vela cautioned patience, adding that although curbside delivery may seem like an instant service it requires a lot of work on the backend.
"Be kind to retail workers," she said. "That's a free way to support your local business."
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It's matchday! Austin FC—Austin's first major league sport team—kicks off its debut season in Los Angeles today after years in the making. We know how much this means to our beloved city and are taking you along with us as we journey to LA!
Austin FC writer Claire Partain and I are excited to bring you game-day coverage straight from the City of Angels. Check back here for updates, and visit our socials: @austonianews for the latest.
5 p.m: Kickoff!
It's finally here! Claire will be updating Austonia's Twitter account live. And we'll post her game recap after the game. Best of luck Verdes!
4:40 p.m: Excitement radiates back home
Watch parties are in plenty supply back home. Austonia's Laura Figi visited Circle Brewing Co. and found a crowd of excited supporters.
4:20 p.m: Austin FC supporters are in the stadium
Although the Banc of California Stadium is hosting the match at limited capacity, we see some green in the stands ahead of kickoff. Just moments away from the Austin FC's debut!
~3:20 p.m: Austin FC's team bus enters the stadium grounds
With a warm welcome from Los Verdes, Austin FC players were welcomed into the Banc of California Stadium.
~1 p.m: Los Verdes in LA
(Rigo Rodriguez/Los Verdes)
Austin FC supporters are making their presence known in LA, including the Los Verdes group.
Los Verdes members started having match-day fun around the area this morning with brunch. We'll be joining them about an hour before the game outside the stadium to share some of their excitement. We'll post immediately to Austonia's Instagram.
11:45 a.m: We landed!
View from hotel room where we're staying; the stadium digital sign can be seen in the right corner. (Sonia Garcia/Austonia)
Switching over to pacific time, we're here and it's almost like no time went by. It's 9:45 a.m. here.
We've been in contact with Los Verdes, an Austin FC supporter group, who is also here in LA counting down to kickoff.
8:20 a.m: LA bound
Like many of you, we've been looking forward to this moment for, let's just say, a very long time. Today, we woke up bright and early, headed to Austin-Bergstrom International Airport and hopped on a flight to LA.
A gloomy day in Austin with a very quiet airport, we're headed to sunny skies in California.
As we wait for the game to start at 4:30 p.m., check out Claire's preview of the game with a predicted lineup and timeline of the long journey to get here.
Years before the city of Austin went Verde, thousands of the city's soccer fans formed a supporters' group—MLS in Austin—for a team that didn't even exist yet.
Now, as the team's catchphrase suggests, those same fans are #LISTOS as they prepare to see their team on national television at Austin FC's debut on Saturday.
What to expect
The team will face a significant opponent in LAFC, who is projected at No. 2 in the league's power rankings. Austin FC currently sits at No. 21.
"LAFC has one of the best attacking teams in the league," Head Coach Josh Wolff said. "They will punish you. They've never been shy of putting up goals, and again, I expect them to be one of the best teams in the league this year."
The club has lived up to Wolff's words: in just their second season of existence, LAFC took first in the Western Conference and were Supporters' Shield winners in 2019.
Austin FC will need to hold off LAFC captain Carlos Vela, a versatile winger/attacking midfielder who won the Most Valuable Player title in 2019, as well as high-scoring forward Diego Rossi.
Austin FC starting lineup vs. LAFC
Meanwhile, LAFC will face challenges in DP Cecilio Dominguez and midfielder Alex Ring, the former NYCFC "ringleader" who wears the captain's armband for his new team. We still don't have any updates for starting forward Rodney Redes, who may or not be playing Saturday due to a "ding" on his knee.
If Redes is fine, we think he'll stay at forward, where he's been excelling throughout preseason. If not, a more experienced Kekuta Manneh might take to the pitch in his stead. Midfielder Jared Stroud is also in the running after he went in for an injured Redes against San Antonio FC on April 10.
While Captain Alex Ring and DPs Tomas Pochettino and Dominguez are shoe-ins for the starting lineup, some other positions are up in the air.
Twenty-year-old Daniel Pereira, Austin FC's No. 1 SuperDraft pick, has done even better than expected in preliminary scrimmages. He's still young, however, and Austin FC recruited him more for his depth than immediate starting appeal. If Pereira doesn't start, it's likely to be Diego Fagundez who takes the starting spot.
Another young potential starter comes in 22-year-old Jhohan Romana, a sturdy defender who has shown inconsistency in preseason. The backline is a clear weak spot for the team so far, and while Romana shows promise, Wolff may look for experience in Julio Cascante for their first starting lineup.
Finally, goalies Brad Stuver and Andrew Tarbell are neck-and-neck in the race for a starting spot. We put Stuver on here for his preseason performance, but neither would be a surprise as starting goalkeepers.
How we got here
It's hard to put into words how monumental it is for these supporters to see their own team one day away from its historic opening match, but the excitement can be felt across the city.
To put things in perspective, here's a timeline of events that brought us here, from "MLS in Austin" all the way up to Saturday's opener.
Where to watch
While Austin FC's first season will officially be underway, their inaugural match will be nearly 1,500 miles away from their home city.
That's no problem for some fans, including those in Austin FC fan group Los Verdes. A group of dedicated supporters are going to the West Coast to welcome their team into the stadium. While LAFC isn't officially allowing Austin fans in due to COVID protocol, some are still searching for a way to watch their beloved team take the pitch for the first time.
Meanwhile, thousands of dedicated fans are also staying home to support their club. Austin FC's first official watch party is sold out with over 1,000 RSVPs, and Austin Anthem is holding a 1000 plus-person watch party as well. For a full list of Austin FC watch parties and participating pubs, click here.
For those staying home, the match will be broadcast nationally on FOX and FOX Deportes at 5 p.m. on Saturday.
Don't miss out on the game!
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