(Left) Coalesce Book Store Owner Linna Thomas shows Nancy Ballenger’s new book about children’s grief now on sale. Call 805.772-2280. (Right) If you aren’t reading these days, Volumes of Pleasure Book Shoppe also has lots of puzzles and games for sale. Call owner Carroll Leslie at 805.528-5565.

By Judy Salamacha

Let’s celebrate some good news! Morro Bay and Los Osos still have two independent bookstores and both are “open” for business.

Linna Thomas, Owner/Operator of Coalesce Book Store https://coalescebookstore.com/) and Carroll Leslie, Owner/Operator of Volumes of Pleasure Book Shoppe (http://www.volumesofpleasurebookshoppe.com/) are first to admit it took a pandemic to overcome their tech phobias, but folks can now browse their new bookshelves on FaceBook and discover dozens of posted photos showcasing their new and used book offerings and other retail products.

As of this writing customers, need to order ahead by phone or email then arrange a time for pick-up. Once at the book shop “knock three times”— yes, singing is allowed — to alert staff to answer the front door. A muffled, appropriately masked voice will confirm who’s order is being picked up then a gloved hand will reach out to deliver your purchase. You can literally feel the smiles and enjoy sincere words of appreciation for your purchases however large or small.

Thomas has been selling books and staging community events at Coalesce Book Store & Garden Wedding Chapel at 845 Main Street in Morro Bay for over 40 years.

“When this all happened we wondered what we could do,” she said. “Our business depends on the revenue from our chapel bookings and April and May were exceptionally busy.”

Multiple weddings every weekend, concerts, special events like yoga and Sunday meditation plus book signings by local authors all had to be canceled or postponed.

In fact, the very weekend SLO County sheltered-in-place, Thomas had invited friends, customers and media to meet Nancy Ballinger, a retired and revered local therapist, who recently published a children’s book in English and Spanish titled Two Brave Cubs: Finding Help When Children Grieve.

I had been invited to the festivities so read Ballenger’s insightful prose supported by engaging lion cub illustrations by Marcy Adams and Julie Frankel. I thought children who have lost a loved one or foster children longing for a home or even children with friends grieving would benefit from this book. And who knew how timely the subject would be during 2020!  

Thomas opined other events that had to be canceled. “We had a national Harp group with thirty to forty people from all over the country coming to stay in Morro Bay hotels. The SLOFolks Concert Series had sold out the Honey Dewdrops. They were already in Los Angeles to start their West Coast tour. Our people were so generous to donate ticket purchases back so we could help them fly back home to Connecticut.”

Wedding contracts normally state no refunds on deposits, but Thomas said they spent their first shuttered days contacting everyone to offer cancellation or postponement options, plus gave refunds. With doors shuttered, she worried how to stop bleeding money and yet stay afloat to keep her employees working.

Meanwhile, Carroll Leslie, owner of Volumes of Pleasure at 1016 Los Osos Valley Road in Los Osos was having similar struggles. The two owners have always collaborated and commiserated more than competed. For example, if a customer can’t find a book at one store they will call and see if it can be purchased at the other. During the coronavirus pandemic they had plenty to cry about, but also decided to work closely to help promote each other.  

Leslie and Thomas have always preferred face-to-face contact with customers, so online sales was not their business model. They turned to staff to ask how they could sell books and other retail items they specialized in like candles, clothing items and greeting cards while their doors were locked down tight. Luckily each had a staff member walk them into the digital age. Coalesce had Roxanne Styles and Volumes employed Ellen Perryess. Each earned the title “essential worker” creating digital storefronts on Facebook for customers to see their products.

The owners then took further steps to upgrade their years of support for KCBX-Public Radio with a combined advertising message to let customers know they were open and how to purchase.  

We’re here from eleven to three daily or longer if a customer needs us,” Leslie said. “When they call they will talk to a live voice. I think that is important.” Additionally, both stores have delivered purchases to locals who cannot get out.  

Thomas said, “When I went to the bank this week I deposited what used to be typical income for one day rather than a week’s sales deposit before this pandemic, but I’m just pleased we’re still hanging on and can keep our employees paid. They need us. We’ve applied for the SB loan, but it hasn’t come in yet. We intend to make it through this.”

So I ask my fellow authors and Central Coast readers, isn’t now the perfect time to get lost in a good book or finish your Christmas shopping? And as our communities’ phases through the coronavirus, 2020 to whatever the new normal will become, we can feel good we helped keep our favorite independent bookstores in business.

“A few years back,” Leslie recalled, “a used bookstore near us closed, and people were surprised and excited when they found out we were still open. I bought a big banner to hang out front to say we were open. I need to find that banner and put it up again.”

“Here to Stay” that banner says. Give them a phone-shout-out to say, “I want you to stay!” AND BUY A BOOK THIS WEEK.