It was a message that Karl Grice hoped never to write. The unexpected and severe impact of Sydney’s second major lockdown, which is still ongoing, meant that just as things were starting to look up for the event-based Christian bookseller, everything came to a stop once more.
The Wandering Bookseller, Mr Grice’s conference bookstall business, opened a physical shopfront – The Little Lost Bookshop – three years ago in Katoomba. Since then, the business has had to deal with fires, floods, staff illness and the ongoing impacts of the pandemic.
“Coming into June, we thought things were opening up again,” Mr Grice says. “We started trying to go back to normal, packing bookstalls for uni conferences, and then Delta arrived and we ended up back in lockdown. It felt more sudden and surprising this time. I thought we’d made it, but then we hadn’t.”
He took to Facebook in early August, where he posted a simple plea: “It’s been a hard 18 months. Can you help?”
The post also contained a series of images explaining their financial situation, asking patrons to consider purchasing books, book vouchers, or make a donation to keep the business afloat.
More than 150 people shared the post to their friends and family, and comments poured in with expressions of love, appreciation and prayers for Mr Grice and The Wandering Bookseller team.
“They exist mainly to support Christian conferences and events,” posted Ruth Baker, a Christian author and member of Glenmore Park. “With COVID, they have been battered by a lot of storms. I am always looking for great resources, especially during lockdown, so have a browse through their books and treat yourself (and support them!).”
The Rev Roger Fitzhardinge, rector of Fairy Meadow, also encouraged his friends and contacts to show support if they could, posting: “Hey book people. My mate Karl Grice runs this sweet bookshop in K-town. A story of bushfires, lockdowns and blergh… buy someone you care about a surprise book (or three)!... Karl’s not going to build a rocket with his profit, he’s the sort of guy who’d buy a pie for a hungry stranger with his last $5.”
The overwhelming response from people turned out to be an answer to prayer for Mr Grice and his family. “I’m not sure what reaction I was expecting,” he says. “I was aware that people had expressed appreciation for our ministry, so I guess I thought there would be a few people who wanted to help, but I didn’t know [there would be so many]. It was very encouraging and heartwarming, which meant that it helped both financially and emotionally.”
Mr Grice was unaware that his wife had been praying the whole time that God would show them what their next steps should be. “Naomi had been praying [that] somehow through this God would make clear whether we should keep the ministry going or whether it was time to move on to something else,” he says. “I guess the support that has come through has encouraged us to keep going.”
It’s still unclear what the next three to six months are going to look like. “It will still be helpful if people can remember us as they’re planning their book purchases coming into Christmas,” he says. “If people could keep praying for us as well. We’re still having good conversations all the time [with the community]. Remember us, even though we don’t get to see you at events. Stay in touch, tell us what you’re reading.”
Tips for supporting small business owners
As a small business owner, Mr Grice is well aware of what many other small business owners and their families are feeling at the moment. “They’re not used to this,” he says, referring to months of lockdown and keeping a business going through a pandemic. He notes that even when there is no pandemic, many small business owners are not taking a wage in the normal sense.
Support is more than just purchasing a product from a local small business – a phone call or message asking how you can be there for them goes a long way. “Some people can’t sell at the moment, depending on what business they’re running,” he says. “The important thing is to check in on them.”
In addition, he encourages people to continue to pray for business owners they know, especially for those who can interact with the public. “People can come to the door for click and collect, and for some people that will be the only conversation they have face to face [in lockdown]. Churches are closed, but if there are Christians doing takeaway coffee, or click and collect, they can have conversations that might not otherwise happen at the moment.”