Like many small businesses deemed non-essential, Bay Area bookstores will close to the public on Tuesday, sending their staff home and sheltering in place by county or city mandate.
This is especially hard for booksellers, many of whom view their services as essential to the health of civic life, by keeping their customers informed, entertained and distracted during a global pandemic.
“We haven’t closed since the 1989 earthquake and that was only one day,” says Pete Mulvihill, co-owner of Green Apple Books, which currently has three locations and 40 staff. “That’s 52 years of uninterrupted bookselling.”
Of the shelter-in-place order, he says, “It’s a relief in some way because it takes it out of our hands. We weren’t sure what the best thing to do was.” He had planned to restrict the number of customers in the store and provide curbside pick-ups for online orders, but he admits that the pessimist in him saw these more drastic measures coming.
What he can’t predict is the future of his business during and after the shelter-in-place order.
In recent years, independent bookstores have distinguished themselves by providing what online retailers like Amazon can’t: a sense of community. Now, that very advantage is a danger to their customers, many of whom are at higher risk for serious illness from the coronavirus.