The Clatsop Community College Bookstore is in an unusual position: it never closed down during the COVID-19 pandemic. As the rest of campus moved online and closed to foot traffic, the college store remained open, becoming a single point of contact for all student needs. We sat down with Denise Russell, Bookstore/Copy Center Manager and Adjunct Professor, to discuss how the bookstore expanded its service during this time.
How has the pandemic changed the way your store functions?
When it first started, it was finals week, so we finished finals and then all of campus closed except for us. We still had rental books to get back. I told administration what we would need to stay open: gloves, masks, hand sanitizer and stuff like that. I found a place to buy masks and got a supply for the college and they in turn, gave me a box. We also have people making masks at home for us. One of those individual is our microbiology teacher whose masks were extra special with filtration.
The school offered to put up plexiglass, but the way our store was set up, it was really going to be hard to do in a way that would actually work. We chose not to do it at that time. We did rearrange the store putting the register counters up close to the door, so we could offer counter service only. We also put hand sanitizer outside the door and a sign that asked everyone to use it before entering. All of this helped us control who could come inside and the amount of exposure. Facilities also provided us with gloves and cleaning supplies.
So, when spring quarter began, we only had two people working, which included me and one part-time temporary worker. We required that students use hand sanitizer and most people were wearing masks. At this time, masks were not required, so we just stood a little further away when talking with the customers. Between each transaction, we wiped down the register and credit card machine. When a customer used a pen, it would go into the used pen slot. When we had about five to 10 pens in there, we would clean them all and let them dry before returning them to the new pen container.
It went pretty smoothly, since we were not as busy as usual. We did have to run around a lot more with the counter service and only two of us. Our sales went down tremendously since the pandemic started. All the classes went online that could. Some classes had to be delayed or cancelled because they couldn’t do online. The college as a whole decided to start classes a week later than scheduled. That gave teachers, two weeks to prepare for online instruction. There was just a lot going on during that time. There were some classes that had to be delayed longer and a few that had to cancel, such as automotive and maritime. They have since started back up with many regulations in place.
What do you think is the most important thing that your store is doing for your school?
We have begun to help distribute materials for other departments on campus such as science lab supplies and computers. Since we are the only area of campus that is open, it makes sense to help where we can. The math lab usually rents calculators, so, we also took over that and now have calculator rentals in the store. Then our TRIO Student Support Services Program brought us all of their books and computers to hand out. We also collected everything at the end of the quarter for each department. We became the only place on campus where students and staff could talk to someone in person.
I think maintaining that face-to-face contact with students is an important function of the bookstore now. We still get a lot of students who are kind of lost coming in. They want to sign up for classes or have questions, and we help them out even if that is just getting them to the virtual welcome center. We try to help them with any information they need and answer any questions we can. Apart from getting books to students and helping them that way, being a stable connection to the college for the students has been very helpful for many students, as well as making us even more valuable to the college.
What are the plans for your store going forward?
We just started summer quarter in the beginning of July. The school is now requiring that masks are to be worn in any common area. Most classes will be online, but we will have some lab classes on campus. So, there should be a few more people on campus this summer but not many. All of the classes that will take place on campus have been moved to our building. It will be the only building unlocked. The café here is closed as well, so we also have the only food on campus.
I am on the opening committee for fall. We are looking at getting more supplies in and opening with whatever rules the governor gives us. Of course, these things can change at any time based on the numbers of the illness in our area. We are trying to set up hand sanitizer stations for the whole school. We are also exploring options for areas that are high contact like bathroom doors. We are looking at how those touch points can be minimized.
The bookstore is ordering some face masks to sell. We will have masks that are a little better quality than what the school is giving away. We have decided to allow approximately five people in the store at once for purchasing supplies but we will still offer counter service for the books. I have talked to a few other stores in the area and they are planning on doing similar things. We still require that customers use hand sanitizer and we also provide a disposable face mask if they do not have one when entering the building.
What advice would you give another college store just reopening?
Be safe. Protect yourselves. Don’t be afraid to require hand sanitizer and masks if your college will allow that. The plexiglass isn’t a bad idea if it will improve the safety of your space. Apart from that, just take it one day at a time.
Things are changing so much right now. I can’t make long term plans. I have to roll with what’s happening and try not to get frustrated. Look at what other stores are doing and follow their lead. I never would have thought about handling pens like we do, but I went to my doctor’s office and that’s what they were doing with their pens. It was a great idea, so I brought it back to the store. Every store is a bit different and what works for one may or may not work for all, so just try to do what is best in your situation. Stay safe and healthy and take care of yourself!