How Bookstores Are Coping: Careful and Delayed Reopenings; Supporting Protesters

In Neptune Beach, Fla., The BookMark closed to browsers in the last week of March and began offering outdoor pick-up, local delivery and free shipping, reported owner Rona Brinlee. During that time, Brinlee was the only one in store and she had all incoming bookstore calls transferred to her cell phone. Customers, she said, were very understanding.

Brinlee did not immediately reopen her store as soon as it was allowed. Instead, she took the time, now with the help of her staff, to move furniture and fixtures to make the store suitable for social distancing. They rearranged sections to minimize lingering and removed all dumps and end caps. It also took some time to get all of the supplies needed, including hand sanitizer, wipes and masks.

The BookMark reopened for browsing several weeks ago, with hours reduced to 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Saturday. Facemasks are mandatory, and Brinlee and her team offer free masks to anyone who needs one. Most customers are glad that the store is requiring masks, and only a few people have decided to not come in. There hasn't been any real pushback, Brinlee continued, although a few people brought up ADA concerns last week. 

"Like all small businesses, we offered appropriate accommodations, as we always would for anyone," she said. "They have not returned."

Neptune Beach is located just east of Jacksonville, Fla., and Brinlee said there has been a lot of concern in the beachfront community about opening the beaches and allowing large gatherings. There has been a spike of cases in the area, and the city of Jacksonville recently ordered bars to close for a second time and issued a mandatory mask requirement for the city and beaches, Neptune Beach included.

On the subject of the protests against police brutality and systemic racism that began in late May, Brinlee said there was a Black Lives Matter march scheduled for last weekend, but the "weather did not cooperate" and it didn't happen. Prior to the march, however, Brinlee and her staff created a window display featuring books by Black authors and books about the power of protesting.


Dave Shallenberger, co-owner of Little Shop of Stories in Decatur, Ga., said he closed his shop to foot traffic on March 17 and switched to a system of online, phone and e-mail ordering, with curbside pick-up, free home delivery and mostly free shipping available to customers. Despite Georgia lifting its restrictions quite a while ago, Shallenberger added, he has not reopened for browsing. 

"Georgia hasn't been able to reduce the number of new cases of coronavirus--in fact they've significantly risen over the past month," he said. "As such, we do not anticipate opening up anytime in the near future. The health of our community and our employees has to be a principal priority."

Luckily, the store's community has been "incredibly supportive," with face masks being the norm for "folks who are out and about." Everyone at Little Shop has remained employed with full benefits including health care. The store celebrated its 15th anniversary last week, and Shallenberger and his team have asked for $15 donations to the store's GoFundMe campaign, to help weather the financial crisis.

Going back to early May, there was a series of racial incidents in Decatur caused by white high school students. The Beacon Hill Black Alliance for Human Rights, which is based in Decatur, was responding to those incidents when George Floyd was murdered in Minneapolis. Over the following weeks, numerous demonstrations were held on Decatur Square, where the store is located.

Madison Hatfield, one of Little Shop's booksellers, spoke at one of the protests about removing a Confederate monument from Decatur Square (it was finally taken down on the eve of Juneteeth). The bookstore distributed water at these events and is donating a percentage of sales to the Beacon Hill Black Alliance for Human Rights.

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