Although many businesses throughout the region have closed or adjusted their operations in an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19 and comply with stay-at-home orders, some bookstores in Mecklenburg and Union counties remain open.
During this time, independent bookstores and big-box retailers are offering limited hours, curbside pickup, online and call-ahead ordering, all of which are allowed under their respective restrictions.
“We need bookstores right now,” said Aimee Kenny, who helps run The Book Lady in Monroe. “Books stimulate your imagination and build your vocabulary. Bookstores keep people calm, and books keep people entertained longer than a two-hour movie. They feed the mind.”
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On March 24, Mecklenburg County issued a stay-at-home order from March 26 to April 16. A few days later, Gov. Roy Cooper issued a statewide stay-at-home order starting at 5 p.m. March 30 and ending on April 30. Cooper’s order extends Mecklenburg County’s stay-at-home order through the end of the month. It also puts new restrictions on Union County, which did not previously have a stay-at-home order in place.
According to a list of frequently asked questions released by the state, North Carolinians must abide by the statewide order. To the extent that a local order contains more restrictive requirements, the more restrictive local order must be followed.
Under both orders, residents may only leave their homes to exercise outside, buy food and supplies, volunteer, take care of others, attend worship and seek medications or treatment. Some residents may even work if they are deemed essential workers, which include medical staff, first-responders and grocery store employees, among others.
A full list of businesses and types of work the state considers essential can be found at www.governor.nc.gov/documents/executive-order-no-121. Mecklenburg County’s stay-at-home order can be found at www.mecknc.gov.
While bookstores are not considered essential by Mecklenburg County, they do fall under the state’s category of “essential retail business,” provided they sell educational materials. According to the state, these stores may also remain open to carry out “minimum basic operations,” such as maintaining inventory, processing payroll and benefits, or other related functions.
“Wouldn’t you think reading is essential … essential in enriching our lives?” asked Lee Rathers, co-owner of Book Buyers in Plaza Midwood. “I would say definitely to keep your brain working.”
Rathers runs the used bookstore with her father, Richard. It has been at the corner of Central Avenue and The Plaza – in the heart of Charlotte’s Plaza Midwood neighborhood – since 1999.
A few years ago, Rathers opened a vegan grocery store inside Book Buyers called The Greener Apple, which sells food, pet supplies, personal care and other vegan goods. She said that grocery component is one of the reasons Book Buyers has been able to operate somewhat like normal during the outbreak of coronavirus.
Customers are still allowed to come into the store for groceries and books from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 6 p.m. Sundays, as long as they stay six feet away from one another. Rathers said she’s lucky she hasn’t been forced to close her doors yet, noting business would likely take a hit if customers can’t browse the shelves in person.
“We don’t have anything in place,” Rathers said. “We don’t have our books listed online.”
In the meantime, Rathers has placed a sign on the door reminding customers to practice social distancing and cover their faces. She has also been disinfecting the door handles, the checkout counter and other high-touch surfaces, but not all the books. She said it’s up to the customer to wipe down any books they want to take home.
“We’re a big store, so people aren’t touching all the books all the time,” she said. “This is new territory. We just don’t know what to do.”
If customers don’t feel comfortable coming inside, Rathers said they can call the store and she will check the shelves for specific books. They can also pay for their books over the phone and she will have them ready for pickup.
Tony Matzke, owner of A. Pennyworth’s Comics and Toys in Matthews, feels independent bookstores and comic book stores like his are more essential now than ever before, especially while people are staying home during the coronavirus.
“I honestly would classify us as media because people do look to comic books for escape,” he said. “I would definitely say we’re essential, just for sanity.”
A. Pennyworth’s, located on Monroe Road since 1999, carries a large selection of both new and old comics, as well as toys from popular movies and TV shows, Barbies and art books.
The store is closed to walk-in customers, but Matzke said people can still make purchases by emailing getcomics@apennyworthscom ics.com, calling the store or messaging him on Facebook. He will be in and out on a daily basis to process orders and is willing to ship items to customers, too.
“I don’t know if I’m allowed to be here, but I’m doing it,” Matzke said. “I’m not going to turn away a customer.”
The Book Lady, located on Independence Boulevard in Monroe, was operating normal business hours until the governor put a statewide stay-at-home order into effect March 30. The store’s new hours are Friday and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Amiee Kenney, who works at the shop alongside owner Carol Gordon, said every customer must use hand sanitizer before they walk in the door. Only new books will be accepted for trade and all surfaces are wiped at least twice a day. It’s up to the customer, however, to sanitize the books.
“High-touch areas are wiped down and sprayed like mad,” Kenny said. “I’m assuring everyone we are trying to make it as germ-free as possible. I’m just trying to stay open. I’m a book addict so I know how it is when you’re locked down and you don’t have enough books to read.”
So far, Kenney said, customers have been keeping their distance, wearing masks and gloves and cleaning their hands. As long as the environment stays safe, she’s confident the store will stay open.
Still, some other independent bookstores aren’t risking it.
The Book Rack on Johnston Road in Pineville has had its doors closed since Mecklenburg County’s stay-at-home order began March 26. The used bookstore, which has been in business since 1995, had a new outgoing voicemail message as of March 30 telling customers the store is closed until restrictions are lifted.
The Book Rack also confirmed the temporary closure in a message posted March 26 to its Facebook page. A few customers commented to show their support.
“When you reopen we will be there!” wrote Karen Armstrong.
“Sad, but necessary,” wrote Delia Molina Rasmussen.
Park Road Books in Charlotte has also closed its doors to walk-in customers but is still offering curbside pickup, online ordering and home delivery. Sally Brewster, who runs the bookstore with her brother, James, said they are the only employees in the store and are keeping their distance from one another.
The store is located in the Park Road Shopping Center and has been in business since 1977.
In addition to new books, Brewster said Park Road Books carries educational workbooks and resources for at-home learning while schools are closed. She’s been busy the past few days working with wholesalers and publishers to fill orders for schools trying to send books to students.
She’s also been working with Communities In Schools of Charlotte-Mecklenburg, which is an affiliate of the national Communities In Schools network. The nonprofit has been supporting the coordination of student educational materials during the coronavirus.
Customers who want to purchase books from Park Road Books can order online or via email at or firstname.lastname@example.org. Curbside pickup is from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday.
“A little money is better than no money and we feel we provide an essential service,” Brewster said. “We’re just grateful and we want to help people out whenever we can.”
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