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Texas Bookstore Owner Considers Reopening As State Lifts Some Quarantine Restrictions

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

As some states begin to reopen, small businesses are trying to decide how to welcome back customers. In Texas, Governor Greg Abbott says the first phase of relaxing his state's lockdown begins tomorrow.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GREG ABBOTT: So with my new executive order, all retail stores, restaurants, movie theaters and malls can reopen May the 1.

SHAPIRO: This first phase will let businesses operate with 25% occupancy. And if it goes well, Abbott might allow businesses to go up to 50% by the middle of May. Kyle Hall is manager and co-owner of an independent bookstore in Dallas called Interabang. Welcome to the program.

KYLE HALL: Thank you very much. I'm honored that you asked me.

SHAPIRO: When you think about reopening tomorrow, what's your main feeling - relief, hope, fear?

HALL: Well, we have - we're excited about it. We are really ready to see our customers again, happy to see each other in person again among the staff, too. But we have lots of weekend regulars, and I'll be surprised if some of them don't want to come here after a monthlong hiatus.

SHAPIRO: I bet. So...

HALL: We were closed for a month.

SHAPIRO: So given that enthusiasm you're expecting, how do you plan to keep occupancy to 25%?

HALL: Well, our plan is to admit no more than 10 people or more than five customer groups at a time. In other words, what we're calling a customer group could be a solo shopper or a couple shopping together or a parent with a child. So two solo shoppers plus a mom with a kid is four people but three customer groups. And we can keep tabs that way.

SHAPIRO: Yeah.

HALL: The size of our store allows for visibility of the space from anywhere a customer is standing, and the person at the cash registers sees everybody. We have no dark corners and low bookcases.

SHAPIRO: And what are your employees telling you about returning to work after a month away?

HALL: The strangest thing has been, of course, realizing that some of the duties are going to have to continue to happen at their home office or working from home because, in addition to downsizing for the customers that we're admitting, we have fewer employees coming in - probably about three on the sales floor and two in the back.

SHAPIRO: What has the last month been like? Have you tried to shift the business to the Internet or just put things on pause? Like, what have you been doing?

HALL: We had the ability to shift into online mode immediately, thank goodness. And so we had brisk business online and for four solid weeks. And then last week, when the governor allowed curbside pickup again, it - that has also been healthy. And that's why, you know, when we can let people across the threshold again tomorrow, we think that traffic will be good but not something that we can't control and monitor for everybody's safety.

SHAPIRO: This week, we've talked to some other small-business owners who are anxious about reopening and worried about safety questions. It sounds like you are really eager and enthusiastic about getting back to the business you're in.

HALL: Well, we just know that we can safely monitor and manage the number of people we expect to turn up. There are places like museums and big-box stores and theaters that can't. But we are built - we were not built for big audiences like that, and we won't be in a jam for that.

SHAPIRO: OK. Well, before I let you go, since you do own a bookstore, can you just...

HALL: (Laughter).

SHAPIRO: ...Give us one title of something you've loved recently?

HALL: Yes. There is a book about the making of the movie Chinatown and Hollywood in the '70s called "The Big Goodbye" by Sam Lawson that is terrific.

SHAPIRO: Kyle Hall...

HALL: And that would be what I'd leave you with.

SHAPIRO: ...He is the general manager and co-owner of Interabang Books in Dallas. Thanks and good luck with the reopening tomorrow.

HALL: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.