In Montrose, Calif., Once Upon a Time is open seven days a week, with hours reduced by about 20%. Owner Maureen Palacios reported that she and her team have started an appointment system for shopping, which has "worked beautifully." Many of the store's customers have been shopping there for decades, she explained, so they feel confident coming in for a private appointment.
The store is fairly small, so only four people are allowed in at a time without an appointment. There are plexiglass barriers at the cash wrap, and Palacios replaced her old credit card machines with machines that can handle contactless payment. She also keeps the front and back doors open to help with ventilation. Palacios said she's encountered only minimal resistance from folks not wanting to wear masks. A bigger issue has been large groups of customers arriving without an appointment and getting frustrated when told that they can't all enter at the same time.
Palacios noted that the store is still operating with a "skeleton crew," due to several employees being in the high-risk category, and as such they have not yet fully embraced virtual events. The store has, however, done some "drive-by" events, with the author set up just inside the store. Customers can come up to the door to speak to the author without entering. Palacios said these events work well if the author is very well known or if they do a storytime/presentation.
Online orders are still keeping Palacios and her team busy, and she said she's not using Ingram DTH service as the "metrics were not advantageous to us." Once Upon a Time is offering local delivery, curbside pick-up and has ramped up telephone sales. In fact, Palacios is considering getting a store cell phone to handle some of the long customer service calls and text messages that have translated into "great sales."
The store is located in an outdoor shopping park, Palacios continued, and one challenge has simply been letting customers know that they're open. On one side of the store there's a building that has been vacant for nine years and currently has scaffolding all over it, and there are vacant restaurants both adjacent to the store and across the street. To let customers know that the bookstore is open, the team has put several large pinwheels outside that "twirl away in the breeze," which helps grab people's attention.
On the subject of buying for the fall, Palacios said her strategy has been a bit "hit and miss" so far. Normally her store carries a large selection of gift items during the fourth quarter, but she and her team decided early on to limit their gift selection this year to ornaments and other small items. The store's book buying, meanwhile, has been done on an almost month-to-month basis throughout the pandemic.
Palacios pointed out that her store has always advocated for more representation in literature, especially children's literature, and Once Upon A Time's buying, displays and events reflects that priority.
Nantucket Bookworks in Nantucket, Mass., reopened at a limited capacity in June. Owner Wendy Morton Hudson said masks are required and hand sanitizer is plentiful. They've also put hula hoops and sidewalk chalk outside to help keep customers amused while they wait to enter the store.
While mask compliance has not been a major issue all told, some parents have gotten annoyed when their children were asked to put on masks and, Hudson said, "a few bad apples can really ruin the day." Reminding people to socially distance and stay apart from each other is a much more frequent struggle.
When asked about ordering for the fall, Hudson said she's cut everything down drastically and she and her team are "really relying on just-in-time inventory more than ever." She also plans to make a much bigger push for web orders this holiday season, given how much online sales have increased this year.
Hudson added that her customers have been incredibly supportive throughout all this, and she's "never been so happy to have our Indiebound site." All told, she continues to be surprised by how busy it's been. July and August are the store's biggest months, and she said she feels "like we've been racing the clock every day to get through the season without the governor rolling us back to a phase where we can't be open."
Earlier in the summer there were two large Black Lives Matter demonstrations in Nantucket. The store put up BLM signage in its front windows and has also prominently featured books by BIPOC authors in its front-of-store displays all season long.
April Gorski, manager of Book Vault in Oskaloosa, Iowa, said the store is open to the public, with shortened hours and at reduced capacity. She noted that while all staff members are wearing masks, the state of Iowa has not issued a mask mandate and so the store has not made them mandatory for customers. Mask-wearing is appreciated and encouraged, and most customers are wearing them anyway and being considerate of the store's policies.
Looking ahead to the fall, Gorski said the store has reduced its book orders, and when it comes to sourcing gift items, they are shopping online rather than attending markets or gift shows. --Alex Mutter