Last week, Madison Books in Seattle, Wash., began booking appointments for in-store shopping after being closed to browsing since the middle of March. Manager James Crossley reported that the appointments are limited to one person at a time, or a pair if they're from the same household, and are scheduled in 25-minute blocks. More people could be allowed in the store at the same time, given Seattle's restrictions, but the store is only 400 square feet and Crossley and his booksellers are not comfortable with more. So far, he said, the appointments have gone well.
In addition to appointment shopping, the store is still set up for window shopping and front door pick-up. With the store being so compact, almost all of it is available from the roped-off front door, so customers can more or less browse while standing outside. Madison Books has done some e-mail invoicing but most transactions are being handled through the contactless credit card processor.
Crossley said only one staff member is in-store at a time, and everyone must wear masks. So far the store's mask requirement has not met with any resistance, and he noted that, anecdotally, the amount of people wearing masks in the neighborhood seems to have increased. Staff members are washing their hands frequently and there is routine surface cleaning, and everyone who enters the store must use hand sanitizer.
Madison Books has obviously not hosted an in-person gathering or event for months, but Crossley and the team have been doing frequent online events. They've done storytime sessions, book club meetings over Zoom and a very successful weekly series of author events called Books in Common NW launched in partnership with Paulina Springs Books in Sisters, Ore., and Country Bookshelf in Bozeman, Mont. The first of these events, Crossley said, featured mystery novelists Iona Whishaw and Elizabeth George and drew nearly 100 viewers.
On the subject of the protests against systemic racism and police brutality that began in late May, Crossley said they were disruptive to the store "only in the positive sense." For Madison Books it was a great opportunity to affirm their support of the movement, and from the end of May into the middle of July, the store's front windows were filled with books by Black authors. On June 12, Crossley closed the store for an entire day to honor a general strike called by Seattle's Black Lives Matter chapter. One major march numbering in the thousands came through the store's neighborhood, and Crossley said that while some nearby stores were apprehensive and at least one boarded up its windows, he and his team found the experience inspiring.
Equally inspiring, Crossley continued, has been seeing his bookseller colleagues around the country grapple with all the difficulties 2020 has thrown at them. "None of us are doing things the way we were taught or the way we wish we could, and we all feel like we're working three times as hard to keep up." But whenever he feels beleaguered, there's a PNBA virtual forum or an event like "Indies Press Night at the End of the World" that helps keep him going.
In Nashville, Tenn., Parnassus Books has not reopened for browsing, said co-owner Karen Hayes. The store is still sticking with curbside pick-up, online orders and shipping. Hayes reported that initially the store saw extremely strong online sales, to the point that she began to wonder if people were stocking up on books the way so many people were hoarding things like toilet paper. She added that online sales have begun to slow recently, which is a concern.
All staff members are wearing masks in-store and are encouraged to wash their hands regularly. Work stations have been spread apart so booksellers can work at safe distances. While some customers seem to be getting a little antsy about being able to browse again, most people have been supportive and are glad that the store is being so cautious. Hayes noted that if the store did reopen for browsing, they would have to move all the workstations into the back, which would not allow for proper distancing.
When asked when she might feel comfortable reopening, Hayes answered, "I wish I could say it was scientific." State guidelines would actually have given her the greenlight to reopen in June. Because the store has such a strong online presence and is fortunate to have Ann Patchett as a co-owner, Parnassus has been able to make do with online sales. On the subject of mask-wearing and social-distancing, meanwhile, Hayes said in her store's neighborhood, people seem to be pretty diligent about wearing masks. But in downtown Nashville, which is extremely touristy, there are lots of violations.
Hayes said her store had a "really hard time" keeping up with orders of antiracist titles after demand skyrocketed in early June. Parnassus got several days behind, and while there were some cancellations, people were patient for the most part. She noted that she and the Parnassus team "didn't feel good" about profiting off of those titles, and donated the profits from the top 20 antiracist books to a local organization called Gideon's Army. And this month, Parnassus is donating 10% of sales from its bestselling titles to Gideon's Army.