In Oxford, Miss., Square Books is once again asking all customers to wear masks in-store, general manager Lyn Roberts reported. The decision came after the state of Mississippi announced its highest single-day new case count on Thursday. Prior to that, Roberts and the bookstore team, who are all vaccinated, were wearing masks while working but had held off on requiring customers to do so.
When the store relaxed its mask requirement in the spring, Roberts recalled, it was a "huge relief" for the staff, since no one had to wait by the door and potentially "do battle with recalcitrant customers." While encounters with those sorts of customers were not the norm, they took an "emotional toll" on the staff, and Roberts did not want to put her staff in that position again. But with vaccination rates in Mississippi among the lowest in the country and case rates skyrocketing, the choice was necessary.
She noted that in recent weeks more customers were voluntarily wearing masks in-store, after a stretch in the late spring and early summer when masks were a bit of a rarity. Roberts added that they've never stopped doing things like delivery and curbside pick-up, as some customers have not felt comfortable returning to the store.
The big question mark going forward, Roberts continued, is events. The Mississippi Book Festival, scheduled for August 21, has already been canceled, and she is not sure what will become of events slated for the end of summer and early fall. While the store would do these events with reduced capacity, things are still a "little bit up in the air."
Square Books, meanwhile, is trying to put out "positive messaging about vaccines whenever we can." One example involves the Ole Miss football team. After the players and coaching staff became 100% vaccinated, Square Books put out a social media post saying "our team is also 100% vaccinated." Roberts remarked: "We're trying to do our part to encourage people."
Sally Bradshaw, owner of Midtown Reader in Tallahassee, Fla., reported that the store has returned to "mandatory masks for our staff." While masks are not required for customers, they are encouraged, and she noted that the team is trying to be "sensitive to social distancing." They are also sanitizing work spaces regularly and offering free masks and hand sanitizer to customers.
The store will likely put its "Kidtown Reader" story hours on hold until later this fall, when, hopefully, it will be safer to have children together in an indoor space. Bradshaw and the team are hosting in-person adult events with limited seating and will continue to provide Facebook Live and Zoom options for people who prefer not to attend in person. She noted that the greater access that digital events provide was one of the "positive unintended consequences" of the last year. Delivery, online orders and curbside pick-up are also still options for customers who don't want to venture inside the store.
For the most part, Bradshaw continued, customers have been "appreciative and respectful of our team and fellow customers."
Tubby & Coo's Mid-City Bookshop in New Orleans, La., has been closed to browsing for 17 months now, owner Candice Huber reported. With Louisiana being an "extreme hotspot" for Covid-19, both early in the pandemic and now with the Delta variant, Huber has kept the store closed for the safety of staff and customers.
As a "niche genre fiction store," Huber said, their customers are "online all the time anyway," so the store was uniquely positioned to pivot to online business, curbside pick-up and virtual events. This new way of doing business has "been working out very well for us," Huber added, and the store will continue to operate that way until it seems safe to reopen for both staff and customers.
While customers do sometimes ask Huber when they plan to reopen, there hasn't been any pushback to the decision to remain closed. Tubby & Coo's customers "understand that we're being as safe as possible, and seem happy ordering online." --Alex Mutter