GREAT FALLS — Many bookstores across the U.S. have shifted to online sales in response to store closures during the pandemic, according to the American Booksellers Association.
However, Great Falls’ Cassiopeia Books has managed to keep business operating in-store as usual.
New owner Millie Whalen said business slowed slightly when the pandemic first hit Montana but has been steady since.
“It became slower in the very beginning of the pandemic before the restrictions went in and then after the restrictions were lifted it came right back. We were -- we were very lucky,” Whalen said.
Whalen attributes the store’s success to their customers’ desire for in-person book selection.
“I enjoy exploring, and I think other people enjoy exploring, and sometimes online sales and purchases don’t really give you that sense of exploration and discovery. They suggest and you can take their suggestions but it’s a little harder to sort of meander through all the different kinds of areas of literature and nonfiction and exploration. And I think that’s the real benefit to bookshops,” Whalen said.
In fact, the bookstore doesn’t sell its books online at all, as customers have the option to come in or have their books delivered.
Longtime customer and lifelong reader, Stacey Bergquist, shops for books both in-store and online but prefers the in-person experience.
“There are occasions when I do buy things online a lot of times though I just come down here and browse,” Bergquist said, “For somebody like me, it’s always gonna be the ability to hold a book and I think just the charm, the ambience. The ability to wander up and down aisles and find something new. I don't find that very satisfying if I try to do that online.”
He believes that unique interaction between customers and booksellers will help sustain bookstores.
“It’s knowing that you have a bookseller who’s not only a bookseller but a friend and who looks out for your interests and calls you up and says ‘Hey stace, that book you wanted, we just got in, come pick it up,” I love that, I love that personal kind of contact,” Bergquist said.
Bergquist said he believes there’s a future ahead for bookstores like Cassiopeia Books.
“Bookstores have been around for quite a long time now and I’m pretty sure they’re gonna keep on going,” Bergquist said.
Cassiopeia Books is located at 606 Central Avenue in downtown Great Falls. They are open 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays.