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Sykesville business Q&A: A Likely Story ‘was able to change and adapt quickly’ amid COVID pandemic

A Likely Story bookstore, at 7566 Main St. in downtown Sykesville, has gained a strong regional following in its 15 or so years in business and has earned some national recognition as well. In 2019, A Likely Story was named to Publishers Weekly’s short list for the publication’s annual Bookstore of the Year award.

Debbie Scheller, owner of A Likely Story, has been a proponent of bringing some pretty big-name authors to Carroll County for book events, a who’s who that has included Michael Connelly, Chris Bohjalian, Harlan Coben, Lisa Scottoline, David Baldacci, Sandra Brown and Dav Pilkey.

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We caught up with Scheller to see how A Likely Story made it through the pandemic.

Debbie Scheller is the owner of A Likely Story bookstore in Sykesville.
Debbie Scheller is the owner of A Likely Story bookstore in Sykesville. (Jeffrey F. Bill/Carroll County Times)

When did your business open and what is it most known for?

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We opened in 2006. We are known for our customer service — putting the right book in your hands, author events throughout the county and our partnership with the Carroll County Public Library and Carroll County Public Schools.

What role does your business play in your community?

We opened in 2006 and there was a very limited number of literacy events in the county. We have been able to bring our community literary events from authors, book chats, book clubs and book fairs as well as other events such as local political forums, Main Street events such as the Harry Potter Nights, and most recently we spearheaded the local Pride Day on June 13.

How did the COVID-19 pandemic impact your business?

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We had to close our doors for three months and lay off our entire staff. We were able to do online sales (one good thing was that many people did not realize we had an online storefront, so our online store increased by over 300%) with shipping and free local deliveries. A very large part of our business is our events. Author tours, book fairs, and book clubs had to be canceled and changed. With our partnerships we were able to convert many of our events to virtual events. Author visits and book clubs and book chats were done via streaming sources and we also were able to have some book clubs in the park.

What steps did you take to help your business survive the pandemic? Did you secure state/federal grants?

We only took advantage of one grant during COVID. We had always had a backup reserve — which unfortunately is now gone, but helped us through with our rent and expenses. Our real help was our local community. They continued to support us throughout and helped us by buying locally.

As a business owner, what did you learn about yourself, your employees and/or your customers during the pandemic?

I learned that my staff is the most supportive and loyal group of ladies you could ever want for employees. They, without pay, continued to help me with online videos and book reviews as well as moral support while I was working alone filling the online orders and doing the deliveries. I learned that I am much more versatile than I would have imagined, and was able to change and adapt quickly to the ever-changing climate during COVID.

Once we began to emerge from the pandemic, what changes made out of necessity did you do away with and what changes worked so well you will continue?

I feel all our changes were positive. We will continue with our curbside for those that wish — even in non-COVID times, some people may need a quick shop and run. We will continue with our local deliveries as well as hope to continue to increase our online presence. We do hope that all our events will return to live events, they are slowly starting but I think there will be a mixture of both live and virtual.

After a most uncertain 15 months for businesses, how do you feel your business is positioned for the future?

We have strong partnerships that have weathered through as well and our local community is so supportive that I feel very positive for the future of A Likely Story.

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