How Bookstores Are Coping: Determining What's Most Important
Cynthia Compton, owner of 4 Kids Books & Toys in Zionsville, Ind., said she is taking a wait and see approach to opening her store again. While Indianapolis is scheduled to reopen after May 15 with retail at 50% capacity, her county allowed stores to reopen this week, but she and many other retailers have decided to stick with curbside service. Noting that a lot of her customers are grandparents and expectant mothers, Compton said her store will remain closed until at least May 24.
At that point, if the state progresses with the current reopening plan, she'll begin allowing a limited number of customers in the shop, with facemasks required. She's already installed a hand-sanitizing station at the entrance and everyone inside the store--patrons and staff--will have to wear a mask. Compton has installed a plexiglass screen at the register and she plans to offer masks for customers if they don't have their own.
For the last six weeks or so, Compton has been working at the store by herself, with her other staff member working from home. In the midst of trying to process orders for pick-up and local delivery, she's also been spreading out displays, eliminating certain fixtures and converting the store's event/party room into additional retail space. She's ordered new signage for each section and she is "waiting anxiously" for a new customer-facing credit card terminal.
Regardless of when the store reopens for browsing, Compton and her team plan to offer curbside pickup and home delivery for the entire summer, and only have one staff member in store at a time. The store's summer reading program will be curbside this year, with families able to pick up their weekly prizes and turn in book reviews and art projects in a "drive through" format.
Compton said she is "frankly very anxious about opening," and added that she's already had customer requests, and some complaints, last week about not being open yet. Indiana is a politically conservative state, she continued, and with the stay-at-home recommendations becoming increasingly politicized, she worries that some potential customers will simply walk away from her store due to the fact that she will require facemasks.
"That's going to be something I will have to be okay with, as my staff's safety and the safety of my customers who are compliant is just more important," said Compton.
In Tampa, Fla., Oxford Exchange officially reopened for browsing last Wednesday. Oxford Exchange is both a restaurant and bookstore, and owner Laura Taylor reported that over the past seven or eight weeks, she and her team have been doing takeout food orders for the restaurant while doing online and phone orders for the bookstore.
The entire business is no longer taking cash, and the bookstore is operating on six-foot social-distancing guidelines. There are hand sanitizer stations, and Oxford Exchange is no longer offering paper receipts. Masks and gloves are not required in the bookstore, Taylor added, but they are required in the restaurant, which has reopened at 25% capacity.
Taylor has tried to bring as many of her staff back as possible, but because the store is no longer doing evening and weekend events and capacity is limited, there are fewer hours to offer. At the same time, if staff members feel unsafe or uncomfortable about the prospect of returning to work, they don't have to. Before reopening on Wednesday, she held an orientation session with her returning staff to go over the store's new policies and procedures, including cleaning and sanitizing routines and ways of minimizing contact during the checkout process.
So far, Taylor continued, there has not been a rush of customers coming back in to browse, which was something she was initially a little worried about. Instead, it's been "very moderate and slow," making it much easier to stick to distancing guidelines and keep everything clean. Oxford Exchange is still doing online sales and phone orders and those have remained consistent since Wednesday.
Looking ahead, Taylor said she has no plans to start doing in-person events again in the foreseeable future, and is going to focus on expanding online events.