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Nevada Interrupted: Book and record stores turn to curbside pickup as reopening begins, but hard to replicate browsing experience

Tabitha Mueller
Tabitha Mueller
CoronavirusEconomy & Business

Many Nevadans are adjusting to the spread of COVID-19 by practicing social distancing, stocking up on supplies and staying at home. The Nevada Independent is sharing their stories each day. 

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Kyle Howell, an owner of Recycled Records in Reno’s Midtown, and Zoe Miller, the owner of Grassroots Books not far from the Reno airport, are familiar with financial stress.

"We've been held together with string, duct tape, and debt," Miller said about Grassroots Books, which she opened in Reno more than 10 years ago.

In Recycled Records' 42 years of existence and in the last year and a half that he has owned it, Howell said that the store endured road construction, location changes and a variety of owners. 

"We're survivors," he said.

But, because both stores had to close when the governor ordered it in March, Howell and Miller agreed that the pandemic created the worst economic situation either of them has had to navigate.

Miller said she was relieved when Reno City Council and Gov. Steve Sisolak decided to ease coronavirus-related restrictions and allow nonessential retail businesses to serve customers via curbside pickup. At a Thursday press conference, Sisolak thanked the Reno Chamber for working on the concept and helping inform his directive.

"It turns out that we can do about 10 percent of our regular business by doing curbside pick up," Miller said. "Maybe we can get that up quite a lot more past the 10 percent mark, but that 10 percent is very important."

Grassroots employee placing books outside for curbside pickup (Courtesy of Grassroots Books)

Even though Howell said the decision makes selling t-shirts and gift certificates easier, curbside delivery presents a unique challenge when it comes to selling second hand records.

"It's more of an on-hand shopping in a store kind of deal than just handing somebody a record on a curbside and saying, 'Hope, the condition's okay with you,'" he said.

Howell and Miller explained that even though some stores have been shipping products, setting up an online inventory and a shipping process would be expensive and impractical for their stores, which they designed for people to come in and browse. 

In Howell's case, he described the store as a "physical place" and said he cannot imagine detailing the condition of the thousands of records in his store and then uploading that information to an online website.

"It's not impossible, but just the money behind trying to get somebody to be able to do that is impossible," he said. 

Howell spent his lunch breaks in high school walking to a record shop where he would buy a cassette tape or talk with the employees about music. He keeps thinking about the customers who came into his shop to discuss music or peruse records.

"I'm kind of wondering what they're up to, what are they doing when they're not coming into Recycled Records three times a week," he said. "We have a very solid base of customers that just love it, and come in and that's what they want to do is just hang out and talk with us.”

Recycled Records Owners, Kyle Howell, Mike McDonald and Eric Jacobson pose for a photo inside their store (Photo courtesy of Recycled Records).

To stay afloat, Miller and Howell applied for government loans. Although Howell does not know when or if he will receive any money, Miller said that she received a Paycheck Protection Program loan, which will help her pay her staff.

She said she is increasing hourly pay for workers who are willing to work on-site, and she has those who do not feel comfortable coming in cleaning or inventorying books from home. She also plans to hire more workers soon.

"I didn't expect this, but one of our biggest challenges is getting enough people to work," she said.

Once Miller gets things moving with the bookstore, she hopes to figure out a way to continue developing a nonprofit promoting literacy at home and offering kids' picture book giveaways where children select books they want for free.

“When kids have a lot of books at home, they're more likely to succeed at school and in life because reading for pleasure leads to good things,” she said. “So we think that 50 books at home for kids, zero to six is the right number for a minimum.”

Miller and Howell are spring cleaning and working on projects for their shops. As they work, they are thinking ahead about ways to keep their customers safe when stores are allowed to reopen.

Their ideas include limiting numbers of customers in the store, putting plexiglass barriers around registers and setting up hand sanitizing stations. 

Even if she is not able to reopen for walk-in customers soon, Miller said she is grateful she can keep supporting customers by offering a productive pastime even in a limited capacity.

“If people decide, if I can't spend 10 bucks on some books that I'm going to love, maybe I'll just go to the liquor store and buy some alcohol, we could end up with people who used to read but now they drink,” she said.

Howell said he is waiting for future directives and will adjust accordingly, but for now is focusing on music and remaining positive.

“We run a record store. I mean, you can't be any happier than running a record store, even in these tough times,” he said.

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