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Beads and books beat COVID by the bay 

Beads by the Bay store Morro Bay_edited-1

The Beads by the Bay store on Morro Bay Blvd.

–To say the COVID-19 pandemic threw a wrench into retail business in downtown Morro Bay would be an understatement. For several weeks, all stores were shuttered tight and for once in a lifetime there was no traffic sailing up and down Morro Bay Boulevard and Main Street, the heart of downtown. Businesses had to think outside the box to come up with a survival plan.

Two businesses had something extra going for them. Because COVID was keeping everyone at home an uptake in doing crafts began and suddenly people realized they had time to read. These two things helped Beads by the Bay and Coalesce Bookstore. That is not to say that both Susan Stewart owner of Beads by the Bay and Linna Thomas, proprietor of Coalesce Bookstore had it easy.

Coalesce bookstore

Coalesce Bookstore on Main Street in Morro Bay.

Stewart contemplated online sales of beads but had to figure in the cost of packaging and mailing so decided to not offer it on her website but did announce on it and Facebook and through emails that she was willing to take phone orders and mail items to customers.

Thomas shut down the bookstore completely on March 19, 2020 and didn’t open until June 29th. “We were always in the store,” she said, “and would take phone orders and delivered books to customers in Morro Bay, Cayucos and Cambria.”

“I went to the shop every day,” Stewart commented, “and had curbside pick-up set up, which worked pretty well.” She also did delivery in town. This only worked well if people knew exactly what types of beads or accessories they wanted. The thing that suffered in a business like this was sales generated out of people browsing through the shop.

Stewart also reopened in June but continued curbside pick-up and held morning appointment hours for people who were anxious about coming in with other people. “Most people ended up feeling comfortable coming in and I limited the numbers in the hop,” Stewart said. She also had hand sanitizer available, masks required, and posted the appropriate precautions in a visible place.

At the bookstore, once reopened, masks were mandatory and a limit of 25-percent capacity held strictly, which amounted to having only six people in the store at one time. “We decided to be open seven days a week but only from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.,” Thomas said. She is considering keeping those hours in place even after things return to normal if that ever happens.

“Our online ordering increased,” Thomas said, “but the best thing that happened is we listed with the nonprofit Bookshop where people can go to their website and order books indicating they desire to purchase them from our store.” Bookshop then mails the books to the customers and Coalesce obtains 30-percent of the sale of the books. “This is a great way to buy books,” Thomas commented, “and is better than using Amazon.”

Bookshop’s mission is to financially support independent local bookstores. They believe that bookstores are essential to a healthy culture. They’re where authors can connect with readers, where new writers are discovered, and where children get hooked on the thrill of reading that can last a lifetime. They’re also anchors for our downtowns and communities. There are a variety of programs offered though Bookshop for readers, writers, authors, and more. Check them out at www.bookshop.org. Stewart gives a big shout out to Bill Schneider, owner of the building where her store is located who gave her and tenants at the Thai Elephant restaurant, Queen’s Closet, and Central Coast Music four month’s rent-free.

Susan Stewart, owner of Beads by the Bay, and books at Coalesce Bookstore.

Despite travel restrictions people from all over still came to Morro Bay. “It’s been a challenge and a dance to play traffic cop in terms of limiting numbers,” Stewart said but it hasn’t hurt sales.” She also reduced her open hours like Coalesce did but is open every day until 5.

“This bookstore has been in business 48 years,” Thomas said, “and although weddings in our Garden Chapel have been impacted, we still hold them limited to 12 people attending. Overall, people have been most accommodating,” she said.

“If the open-up is anything like the shutdown, I think we will continue to see record numbers of travelers,” Stewart said, “Morro Bay is an easy day’s travel for many. And I see that people seem eager to support small businesses, both locals/regulars and visitors. I am grateful to all of them.”

Coalesce Bookstore is located at 845 Main Street, Morro Bay, and online at coalescebookstore.com, (805) 772-2880. Beads by the Bay and the Garden Shop is at 333 Morro Bay Blvd, Morro Bay, and online at morrobaybeads.com, (805) 772-3338.

-By Ruth Ann Angus

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