On June 11, 2019, I was probably thinking about a lot of things, but you know what I wasn't thinking about? Facemasks, plexiglass shields, social-distancing floor markers, hand sanitizer stations.
By the time June 12, 2020, rolled around, however, the opening paragraph of my column noted that "as indie bookstores gradually reopen after months of restrictions and adaptations due to the Covid-19 pandemic, one thing seems clear: nothing is clear. The word 'phase' has upped its lexicon ante considerably. Many states in the U.S. are in Phase 1 or Phase 2 or Phase 3 of their reopening plans, while other states never used the word and some have been unphased, if not uninfected, from the start."
A year later, few people remain "unphased" by the pandemic, and as bookstores edge toward whatever the latest phase turns out to be, booksellers are still having to deal with a certain kind of customer who finds the mild inconvenience of wearing a face mask infuriating.
|At Second Flight Books, Lafayette, Ind.
Not long ago, Inkwood Books in Haddonfield, N.J., posted on Facebook: "We're going to try out some mandatory mask hours so our families with young kids and higher risk friends have some guaranteed time when everyone in the store will be required to wear a mask, regardless of your vaccination status. Inkwood staff is all fully-vaccinated but we will continue to wear our masks at all times as an extra precaution for all. We appreciate all your patience as we navigate through this!"
Patience, or the lack thereof, being the key word here. The CDC caught everyone off guard with its May 13 guidance that fully vaccinated people could go mask-free in most situations. A recent Bloomberg Businessweek article pointed out that "relying on the honor system for ditching masks risks bringing the acrimony that has roiled the public square into the private office. Either way, the burden is shifting to employers to figure it out."
Once again, indie booksellers have had to pivot, adapting to the new CDC guidance and state/local variations with a healthy dose of patience and common sense. Here's a sampling of how they are managing the latest phase:
Whistlestop Bookshop, Carlisle, Pa.: "I will likely continue to wear a mask for a while because I am exposed (or 'am delighted to see') hundreds of people through the day. Don't take it personally. I don't want to be a breakthrough case (positive after vaccination), I don't want to be an asymptomatic carrier to others I run across outside the store, only half of you have been vaxxed, and no child under 12 has been vaxxed. I want to assure the latter group, particularly, that masking is normal and routine. Yes, I would rather not wear a mask, especially in hot weather, but it is not heavy lifting, either. Thanks for understanding!"
Downtown Books, Manteo, N.C.: "It's really easy... if u want to shop at #downtownbooks, we will ask you to wear a mask. If you don't have one we can give you one. If you don't want it, there's no need for this kind of trashy behavior, just leave and we will tell you on your way out the door to 'come back again soon'. Cause we're classy like that and we're still staying cautious."
The Toadstool Bookshop, Keene, N.H.: "Our three stores are open to conscientious shoppers. Masks are still required in our stores to protect the young and the vulnerable, and to provide the reassurance that our stores are safe places for all. We continue to offer curbside pick-up and online shopping for those who prefer. Thank you for your understanding."
Bards Alley Bookshop, Vienna, Va.: "IMPORTANT COVID-19 UPDATE! As of TODAY, in accordance with CDC and VA State guidelines, we are allowing vaccinated customers into the shop mask-free! We do ask that partially vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals continue to wear masks, to protect our youngest and most vulnerable readers. Thank you!"
Word on the Street, Marlborough, Mass.: "For now, masks are still required here. Half of our customers are little ones who still can't get the Covid vaccine. Thanks for understanding."
Second Flight Books, Lafayette, Ind.: "Most of y'all have been great at continuing to wear a mask and protect those who are still unable to get vaccinated, but we added another sign to remind everyone else. Wearing a mask is an act of love, even if you're vaccinated."
Let's Play Books Bookstore, Emmaus, Pa.: "Can we please be patient and kind? All of us are in this together, and as our friends at Sweet Memories Emmaus PA shared this morning, small businesses are doing a lot that you are likely blissfully unaware of, so please, take a deep breath, slow down, and be grateful."
As one of the fully vaxxed, will I keep wearing a face mask everywhere and forever? Probably not, though I suspect masks will continue to be a part of our lives now that their public visibility has been normalized medically and socially, if not always politically. There are still extra KN95 masks in my car's glove compartment, and whenever I leave the house I put a face mask in my pocket, just in case. It's become a habit. We shall see what the next phase brings. --Robert Gray, editor