California governor Gavin Newsom has begun to modify the state’s stay at home order to combat the spread of the Covid-19 virus, allowing some retail, manufacturing, and logistics businesses to begin serving customers in a limited way on Friday, May 8.

As part of "Phase 2" of the state's four-step plan, bookstores (along with clothing stores, florists, and sporting goods stores) can reopen as long as they follow the state’s forthcoming guidelines to reduce the risk of Covid-19 transmission. Those guidelines will be released on May 7.

“Bookstores made the list of approved businesses that can open to curbside pick-up and home delivery. However, this does not allow for browsing," said Calvin Crosby, executive director of California Independent Booksellers Alliance (CALIBA). “I am hearing of stores that are hard at work working on compliance for what the rules will be, from no-touch credit card processing to plastic barriers to establishing sanitation schedules and procedures,” Crosby said, but added, “I believe California is a long way from even limited browsing."

Kepler's Books CEO Praveen Madan has taken a "slow and steady attitude" toward the reopening process at the Menlo Park bookstore, focusing on "designing a safe, healthy enjoyable shopping environment" for his staff and community, rather than an immediate reopening as Phase 2 begins. "It’s not a decision we make easily or lightly," he said. "We have a very inclusive decision-making model we use at Kepler’s. We want to bring our staff and our community along. The county has to say it’s okay to open and our key stakeholders have to agree as well." As the bookstore plans for the future, Kepler's will host a remote Community Reads program with customers reading Exit West by Mohsin Hamid together as they shelter-in-place.

Crosby added that while Newsom’s guidelines will affect the entire state, local governments can set more strict rules and the state will respect those decisions. Accordingly, each store must find its own path to compliance, navigating both state and local regulations as California takes the first tentative steps toward restarting its economy.

“Our mayor has not yet announced when our restrictions might change,” said Pete Mulvihill, co-owner of Green Apple Books in San Francisco. As the bookstore awaits guidance from local leaders, it has been working on safety protocols, modifying work stations, and bringing back laid-off staff on the heels of a Paycheck Protection Program loan from the federal government. “We expect curbside pickup to be available soon, but we don't know when. We'll be ready to offer that as soon as it's allowed,” said Mulvihill.

“I know stores, regardless of size and location, are equally concerned for their bookseller's safety and the public's safety once the next phase is in place,” said Crosby. CALIBA has waived all dues for member stores during the Covid-19 crisis, and has been able to connect with stores of all sizes throughout the state—sharing best practices, virtual event facilitation support, and education with members. “Although physical distancing is the new normal, this office has never felt more connected to our members,” he said.