'A lot of people have been alone, alone, alone, and they need the connection'
Through phone lines and social media, Books Inc. maintains strong bond with its community of 'bookworms'
For decades, the incentive for patrons to visit Books Inc. has gone well beyond the pleasures of having a new book in their hands.
Before the COVID-19 shutdown, Books Inc. offered a stacked lineup of events from young adult author talks to weekly book clubs for children. It was a place where people could walk in and spark up a conversation.
All of those traditions are part of the reason the store has held such a strong connection with the community, said manager Cheenie Durham.
"That's what we do," Durham said.
But for a few months, the pandemic threatened to upend those beloved traditions. The bookseller, which has Midpeninsula locations at 317 Castro St. in Mountain View and Town & Country Village in Palo Alto, temporarily shuttered its stores and every in-person event was canceled.
"We had to cancel stuff that was happening the very next day," Durham said. "A lot of emails went out among a bunch of people, so that was a huge thing just to stop all of that."
During the two-and-half months Books Inc. was closed, Durham described the period as "odd and hard" given that part of her job is to closely interact with her community of bookworms every time someone comes into the store.
Thanks to the chain's existing online infrastructure, the bookseller was able to stay afloat during the lockdown through its online sales, which Durham said have "skyrocketed."
"We were seeing numbers previously unseen," she said.
Books Inc. offered free shipping for online orders as an incentive to shop at their online store.
It also kept its phone lines and direct message inboxes on social media wide open to stay in touch with its customers. Cheenie said it didn't take long before they pivoted to virtual author events.
The online gatherings are not quite at the usual level of programming the bookstore once offered, but it does help provide one more way to keep the book community connected, she said.
"Everyone needs to connect," Durham said. "A lot of people have been alone, alone, alone, and they need the connection of some new books and being around other booklovers."
Now, with looser state and county health restrictions, Books Inc. has reopened for in-store shopping.
"It's been wonderful," Durham said. "People are just thrilled we're here and just to be able to come into the bookstore and actually look at books rather than just being online."
Scroll down to find out how last year's winners have responded to the pandemic.
Blossom True Value Hardware
Opened in 1973, Blossom True Value Hardware sells items for plumbing, gardening and electrical work, in addition to housewares and other small appliances. The hardware store also provides a key and glass-cutting service for customers. Items can be purchased online and shipped to the store for free pickup.
1297 W. El Camino Real, Mountain View, 650-964-7871; truevalue.com
2019: Best Hardware Store
Books Inc. has been serving the Mountain View community for nearly two decades. The shop stocks nonfiction, fiction and kids' novels, in addition to games and gift items. The store is open for browsing and in-store or curbside pickup. Check the Events page of their website for live virtual events with authors.
317 Castro St., Mountain View, 650-428-1234; booksinc.net
2019: Best Bookstore
Cognition Cyclery is a full-service bicycle shop offering a wide stock of commute-style and high-end road bikes, accessories, bike rentals repair service and bike fittings. The shop is now open seven days a week and offers online shopping with free local pickup.
903 Castro St., Mountain View, 650-386-1955; cognitioncyclery.com
2019: Best Bike Shop
East West Bookshop
East West Bookshop is designed to be a place for "self-exploration, expansion of understanding and self awareness in an uplifting environment," according to the store manager, who said the shop stocks unique gift items with that philosophy in mind. East West offers crystals, singing bowls, jewelry, used books, art and much more, with some items now located outside. Author events have been moved online.
324 Castro St., Mountain View, 650-988-9800; eastwestbooks.org
2019: Best Store for Unusual Gifts
Fleur de Lis
The neighborhood flower shop Fleur de Lis offers flower delivery, in-store shopping, wedding flowers and set up, and funeral flowers. Since they resumed services in May, Fleur de Lis has been sending flower arrangements with encouragement cards written by local students to local nursing homes to cheer up residents and staff. They accept online orders for all occasions.
811 Castro St., Mountain View, 650-968-0220; fdlflowers.com
2019: Best Florist
Therapy sells clothing, home goods, vintage furniture, jewelry and unusual trinkets, and donates 1% of all sales to community organizations. The Mountain View shop has reopened with new safety measures. The company also offers an extensive selection of merchandise on its online store.
250 Castro St., Mountain View, 650-691-1186; therapystores.com
2019: Best Boutique