Books should surely be considered "essential," and now beloved Half Price Books comes to our rescue, reopening with curbside pickup at its eight Austin-area stores and across Texas.
Customers can call their local store to place an order for books, movies, music, games, and puzzles. The stores take payment over the phone, schedule a pickup time, and have your purchases waiting at the door for contactless pickup.
This marks a return to business for the Dallas-based bookstore chain, which closed all of its 125 stores across the country on March 17.
"We made that decision based on the uncertainty of the market and concern for our employees and customers," says Half Price Books' chief strategy officer Kathy Doyle Thomas. "We were one of the first retailers to do that. We're a family-owned company and it was a very hard decision to make, to furlough and lay off a lot of our employees, but we wanted to be prudent."
Since Half Price has stores in 17 states, they had to contend with conflicting mandates from one location to the next, with cities and states such as Pittsburgh and California ordering closures as early as March 12.
Its online operation was already fairly innovative, but they've ramped it up by posting inventory from each store.
"You still should call the store," Thomas says. "We try to keep the inventory list up to date, but we add all the time. We have warehouses with items we have not scanned and put on our shelves, yet are for sale. And we can always find it and get it transferred to your closest store."
One increasingly popular category during these housebound times has been puzzles and board games.
"We've had people who have called and our employee took pictures of all the puzzles — we have rows of them, it's a big thing — and then got on the phone with the customer, 'Do you want the one with the balloons?'" she says.
Curbside pickup is the first step in the journey toward reopening, and the store is not yet in a position to buy your used books or CDs, so keep that bag in your trunk for now. But as soon as next week, Half Price will be reopening stores in Phoenix.
"The governor has decided to open back up to the public, and we're trying to get our policies in line," Thomas says. "We have to make sure our employees are safe. We hope customers will do their part and wear masks and practice safe distancing. We had one situation at a store where we put an order in a customer's trunk and the woman said she had tested positive. We're just trying to be safe and do the right thing for our people — it's a tough time, all the way around."
And while shopping online is a good fill-in, it'll never replace the real thing.
"I love books, and we miss having the stores open," she says. "Sometimes you go in to get one thing, and come across five other things you like even better. If you've shopped at Half Price Books, you know we're a browser's paradise."