One of North Bay's most unique destination businesses is almost ready to open back up to the public again — but with a new and necessary health and safety pact in effect between Allison the Bookman ownership and staff and the store's loyal customers.
This from owner Annette Allison-Vander Waal, who says the lack of tourism from the COVID-19 pandemic will be a challenge but she is unwilling to give up on the North Bay institution of 47 years.
As with many businesses experimenting with reopening, even in a limited capacity, health and safety come down, in large part, to the cooperation of the visitors to the establishment, says Allison-Vander Waal.
"It's going to come down to limiting the number of people in the store and how well our guests are socially distancing," she says.
Browsing will soon once again be possible in the Main Street East store but certain protocols must be followed and entry will be limited to 15, including staff.
"It's something that is challenging to us, this situation. It's challenging to how we staff, for our credit system, the number of people allowed inside," she says. "It's something we've had to think hard about how we're going to do it."
Allison-Vander Waal says she expects it will be just a matter of days as Allison the Bookman is "close to a re-open but we want to make sure we do things right the first time in preparation for all of the changes. We're determined to survive this and I have a great team standing with me."
She acknowledges the changes will take some getting used to but when it comes to wearing a mask inside the store during regular business hours, there is no wiggle room. Staff will wear masks or face shields and customers will not be permitted to enter without a mask.
Allison-Vander Waal says several of her employees have high-risk loved ones and management feels the enclosed environment and limited air circulation in the store make wearing masks a necessity.
"I don't want to put anyone — especially the vulnerable — in a position that they have to worry," she adds.
In a notice posted to the store's Facebook page, customers are asked to "please bring your own masks as they are expensive for us to purchase and we'll need to begin charging for masks if you don't bring your own."
However, that does not mean the store will leave its high-risk and immuno-compromised customers on the outside looking in. According to management, a call or email is all it takes to set up an appointment to visit the store before regular hours.
Allison-Vander Waal advises it will also take arrangements made by customers ahead of time to exchange books for credit. A receiving area has been cleared out at the back of the store and she says a limit of two boxes per customer will be in place for now. Books will be quarantined for 48 hours in an abundance of caution before being shelved.
Allison the Bookman is also reminding customers no gloves are to be worn in the store. Health professionals advise customers should sanitize their hands upon entry, explains Allison-Vander Waal, and "the only exceptions will be given for those with medical reasons and gloves must not be put on until you enter the store."
"It's definitely going to be a challenge just to deal with people not liking the changes we have to make — but also trying to get them to understand why we have to do it this way," says Allison-Vander Waal. "It's for the safety of everybody, including my team and anyone who comes in the store."