Annie Carl, owner of The Neverending Bookshop in Edmonds, Wash., reopened her store for curbside pickup in May, and reopened for browsing later in the summer--with some caveats. Customers are required to wear masks at all times, and Carl said she's had to use her "mom voice" to scold adults who were wearing masks incorrectly. Only five people are allowed in at a time, and Carl has canceled all author events for the rest of the year. While she does plan to reevaluate that decision in October, she doubts she'll be any closer to having crowds in the shop by then.
Aside from taping arrows around the store to show customers the best way to enter and exit the shop, Carl has not made many physical changes. Usually no more than two people are in store at a time, she noted, and in addition to limiting overall occupancy, she is limiting the number of people who can be in the children's room.
Carl reported that most people who have come to the shop with the intention of buying books have already been wearing masks and have been good about social distancing. She has had to stop a few people without masks from coming in, and politely but very firmly tell them that they can come back when properly masked. She has also had a handful of people try to use the ADA as a reason for not wearing masks.
"When they realize they're dealing with a physically disabled bookstore owner, they backpedal pretty quickly," Carl said. She added that while she may not know the ADA verbatim, she does know how it applies to the pandemic, and it "infuriates" her when able-bodied people try to use it as an excuse to get out of wearing masks. And for actually disabled people who cannot wear masks, she is still offering curbside pickup and shipping.
When Carl moved from her original location to her current space in 2018, she turned Neverending Bookshop into a genre-focused store. During the quarantine, and in direct response to the protests that began around the country in late May against systemic racism and police brutality, she has pivoted to being a feminist, activist bookstore, as well as a genre bookshop. She's added a human studies section, which is the only nonfiction she carries, and she has drastically reshaped her genre sections to include mainly books written by women, disabled, LGBTQIA+ and BIPOC authors.
As a result, she now carries far fewer books by white and male authors. There has been some pushback from the community, she said, mainly older white men who feel attacked by the books she's brought in or her choice to remove certain books. She noted that she will still order anything a customer asks for, but she has chosen to put her time and energy toward amplifying voices that have historically gone unheard. The bookstore, she continued, now feels like a much truer representation of who she is and what she believes in.
In Zebulon, Ga., A Novel Experience has been open for browsing since July 1, reported owner Chris Curry. Up to four people are allowed in at a time and daily hours have been slightly reduced. All of her staff are back at work, and Curry noted that the store is 3,200 square feet, so there is plenty of room for social distancing.
Curry and her team all wear masks while working, and they ask customers to wear masks inside the store. Only around half of the people who come to the store bring their own masks, but those without masks will put on masks provided by the store "without too much trouble." Noting that A Novel Experience is in a rural part of Georgia where there have been few Covid cases, a sort of "it can't happen here" attitude has developed. Despite that, masks have become slightly more common in recent weeks--Curry guessed that it was because some big retail chains are now mandating masks.
Interestingly, Curry continued, sales are actually higher than normal. Locals have been very supportive of the business and parents have been turning to her to buy resources for remote learning and homeschooling. There have also been a lot of tourists coming from Atlanta and Macon to get out of the city, and they've been buying books, too.
A Novel Experience is located on Zebulon's Courthouse Square, and Curry said she and her team took part in a Black Lives Matter march and program there earlier in the summer, which were safe and very positive. Curry's co-owner is on the board of the local chapter of the NAACP, she added, and they helped plan the event. The store stayed open during that program in case any participants needed to use the restroom or wanted AC-relief, and the team displayed some posters featuring quotes from Martin Luther King Jr., which they usually display in February.
In addition to participating in that event, the store also curated a display of fiction and nonfiction books about race. Me and White Supremacy was the pick for the store's monthly Spirituality Book Group, and for the past couple meetings of the store's monthly Living Room Conversations, Curry and her team have chosen titles on policing and racism. --Alex Mutter