June 16, 2020

Bookstores are opening back up, kind of


Greenlight is still waiting for it, that green light, they want it. I’ll show myself out now…

June is here and states are creaking open. Some are flinging the doors wide, caution thrown to the wind, while others are moving more gingerly. Bookstores mostly find themselves among the latter.

As Publishers Weekly reports, the hesitance ranges from a distrust in the speed of reopening being dictated by state authorities, the difficulty in securing necessary equipment to protect staff (sneeze guards, hand sanitizer, etc), and shifting away from the online ordering systems that had been established at the height of the lock-down.

The direction of infection rates remains highly uncertain—and regional. In New York City, Rebecca Fitting of Brooklyn’s Greenlight Bookstores wants to first determine if the protests against racism and police brutality that swelled over the first part of the month will result in a spike of cases before proceeding with reopening. Meanwhile, rural bookstores worry about out-of-towners being careless because they believe the virus is not a meaningful presence in these communities.

Across the nation, strategies are varied. Some are limiting the amount of browsers, only offering entry by appointment, or offering a “hall pass” so that customers can only enter if one is available.

Online sales remain strong, but much as we need a new stimulus from our government to make it through this highly turbulent period, another influx of support for the book industry in probably in order.

Atomic Books co-owner Benn Ray notes that they “have people coming to the door and knocking, thinking they can come in and browse, and they can’t. So that’s somewhat frustrating and distracting us from dealing with curbside, local delivery, and mail orders.” So guys, please don’t tap on the glass; it startles book store staff. Keep ordering books from bookshop.org. And if you’re reading this, don’t be shy about ordering Melville House books.



Athena Bryan is an editor at Melville House.