MASON, Ohio — Cindy Bell wanted her Christian bookstore, Belong, to provide her customers with comfort and hope. They returned the favor when the COVID-19 pandemic forced it to close its doors for three months.
Bell and her husband, David, were squeezed on both sides by the pandemic and the accompanying business shutdowns.
“I kind of felt like the lone man on the boat trying to figure out, ‘Oh my God, what do we do, how do we do this?’” Bell said said.
Belong, one of only a few remaining Christian bookstores in the Cincinnati area, was judged non-essential and temporarily closed. David’s business, the Tavern Restaurant Group, was forced to lay off hundreds of employees as new health and safety restrictions gutted the restaurant industry.
Bell initially thought the closure would last about two weeks, she said — unpleasant but survivable. It lasted nine. Somewhere in the middle, she began to lose hope.
“All of a sudden it was ‘OK wait a minute, we don’t have sales coming in,’” she said. “We still owe all of our vendors. We are now not having Easter, were not going to celebrate the things that this store brings to the community.’”
Her husband and the store’s community of customers helped her through. Some placed online orders during the closure; others donated money outright.
Bell is grateful, even as the future remains uncertain. Belong is open again and offering curbside pickup for customers who don’t want to step inside.
“There are people that understand the value of what we do here, that are trying to make sure we stay here,” Bell said.