As the village of Oak Park moves into phase three of Governor J.B. Pritzker’s Restore Illinois plan, allowing for more businesses to resume semi-regular operations, the Book Table has opted to delay its reopening.
Due to COVID-19-related safety concerns for its staff and customers, the independent bookstore, 1045 Lake St., plans instead to reopen June 12.
“The metrics by which our government is calculating moving on to phase three is not whether it’s safe to reopen but whether or not there are enough hospital beds to accommodate us all when we reopen,” said Jason Smith, who owns the Book Table with wife Rachel Weaver. “We don’t want to be responsible for filling hospital beds.”
The book shop with its many nooks and crannies has an intimate atmosphere, conducive for browsing the selection but not conducive for social distancing.
“We’ve designed two-thirds of the store deliberately to get people stuck in alcoves,” said Smith. “It’s one thing to get trapped in an alcove with a bunch of other people in normal times, but right now, it is very difficult to fully imagine someone browsing safely six feet away from somebody else.”
The merchandise sold at the Book Table also makes it different from other retailers; when buying books, most people tend to pick up the volumes, examine the inside covers and read a few pages.
“When you walk into a grocery store, I would say probably about 80 percent of what you touch you buy,” said Smith. “But in a bookstore, probably 20 percent of what you touch you buy. You spend a lot time looking at this book, setting it down, looking at something else and setting that down.”
While not quite reopened, Book Table employees have returned to work from being on paid leave.
The Book Table also offers curbside pickup for book orders. “We do a big curbside business, contactless curbside, out of the rear of the store,” said Smith.
Employees then set the customer’s order on an outside bookcase then go back inside the store without physically interacting with the customer.
“That’s working for us right now,” said Smith. “We’ve been doing that since May and lots of people have taken advantage of that.”
The Book Table is also shipping book orders to those who cannot come pick them up.
Due to the removed nature of shipping orders and doing curbside delivery, the Book Table is missing out on sales from items people typically grab while checking out, such as greeting cards and newspapers.
Smith said coming to the decision to delay the reopening was “extremely difficult.”
“Of course, we’re not happy about it, but once we made the decision there was no doubt about the decision,” Smith said. “It was clearly the right decision for our particular business in our particular location at this particular time.”
Shanon Williams, executive director of Downtown Oak Park, said she has not heard of any other retailers delaying their openings, but understands the reasoning behind the Book Table’s decision.
“I have not heard another retailer say they’re not going to try to open under the guidelines Pritzker set,” said Williams. “I think a lot of the retailers are anxious to open their doors.”