No more booking a crowd
It's easy to forget that it was only last August that crowds of readers packed Ink Spell Books in Half Moon Bay for a "Where's Waldo" promotion. It could be months before storeowners dream of anything like this again. Review file photo

Independent Bookstore Day, which took place on April 25, was supposed to be one of those big events at Ink Spell Books that exemplifies why the store is so popular among Coastsiders. Like a disappointing novel, this year it was a little less climactic than originally anticipated.

Because of the shelter-in-place orders to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, the event was canceled and that saddened Ink Spell owner Cindi Whittemore, who cherishes the communal nature of her store.

The coronavirus has changed many aspects of everyday life for Coastsiders, from buying groceries to taking a walk. It’s also changed access to reading materials. The shelter-in-place orders have either shuttered local bookstores temporarily, as is the case with Coastside Books in Half Moon Bay, or forced a pivot to curbside pickup, as Ink Spell Books has been doing.

Whittemore said she is not entirely sure what the future of the store looks like. While customers may be able to browse the shelves, some of the unique charm and community aspects that attract readers young and old may be missing. There are communal reading spaces that may have to be removed, as will the shared toys and games.

“Even when we are able to open our doors, it’s not going to be the same,” Whittemore said.

Ink Spell Books has been operating a curbside pickup system in which customers can order over the phone or online. Whittemore explained that a lot of business nowadays involves school assignments, as many parents are now involved in home schooling. Recently, some students at Cunha Intermediate School were assigned “Hatchet” by Gary Paulsen. Rather than scroll down a shared PDF, some students opted for a hard copy.

“Anybody who didn’t want to read it on the computer, their moms called me and we were able to get them copies,” Whittemore said.

Whittemore has also taken orders from a teacher who wants to present her graduating class with books as a graduation present and supplied books for Farallone View Elementary School, which is taking advantage of this time off to restock its own library.

“We miss seeing everybody,” she said. “Story times, singing with all the little kids, watching kids play on the train tables, our big book swap parties, I miss all of that.”

Meanwhile, the Half Moon Bay Library, one of the Coastside’s most important reading hubs, is still closed. All San Mateo County libraries are scheduled to remain closed until the end of May and have eliminated late fees for the time being. During this prolonged shelter-in-place period, the county library system has expanded its online presence, incorporating many practices libraries host in person, including music playtime, bilingual story time, open lab and drawing lessons.

The libraries also launched an online resource webpage for students and teachers aimed at helping both groups get better at distance learning. There is online tutoring, lesson plans and research databases for both high school students and teachers. And that’s not including the vast collection of online books, audiobooks and movies available as well.

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