Janke Book Store looks to its 100-year history to navigate COVID-19 pandemic

Published: May. 13, 2020 at 7:01 PM CDT
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Janke Book Store in downtown Wausau survived the Great Depression. Now, its family owners are navigating what may be the worst economic downturn since.

Janke's is now re-opened, with five people allowed in the store at a time. They say they survived having to close by adapting to social media and offering positive messages to their community.

The family owners have carried it through the Great Depression, a world war, the age of the internet, and like the books inside, it lived to tell the tale. Now, co-owner siblings Jane Janke Johnson and Jim Janke are adding “global pandemic” to the list of events the walls are witnessing.

“It’s very challenging thinking I might be the end of the era, of the book store, because small business is in huge jeopardy,” said Janke Johnson.

Connecting with customers through their Facebook page helped them keep regulars waiting for their return.

“A little levity in the whole situation of this pandemic,” she said.

Asked if she’s seen anything like this situation before, she replied, “No, but we do think back to the history of our store.”

Jane and Jim’s grandfather bought the store 100 years ago, after the flu pandemic.

“We’re thinking, did our grandfather buy the bookstore at a fire sale, because the last bookseller was just too frustrated with the current events?” said Janke Johnson.

He too got creative during hard times.

“Instead of selling books, my grandfather rented books during the Great Depression. He could’ve given up as well, and he chose not to,” she said.

And now, he’s watching over them as they turn the page into the unknown.

“My brother and I certainly have his watchful eye over us every day as we navigate this pandemic. It’s really hard, because I’m really sad for our whole world. Those living on the fringe, I’m sad that they might not have food or shelter above their head,” she said.

She says it’s not sustainable to only allow five customers in the store, and they’re concerned about the future of many downtown businesses right now.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow, or the next week, we don’t know if the second wave is going to come back this fall. And we do know from the survey that the downtown river district did, that probably half of our small businesses are in jeopardy,” said Janke Johnson.