Highline College

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Bookstore copes with coronavirus changes

Natalie Meushaw Staff Reporter May 27

The campus bookstore is only available for online ordering, creating a much different school environment than students are used to.

Interim Bookstore manager Flint Thornton said that currently the bookstore has five permanent full-time employees and three part-time hourly. Pre-COVID, the store was open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. with up to 25 student employees.

In spring of 2019 the store processed 35 online orders to ship to students’ homes. During peak times the store can process 800 transactions combined in-store and online each day.

“After a lot of planning and discussion, the bookstore transitioned to online only after the winter term ended,” Thornton said. “Since the campus was (is still) closed to students, we operated with only the core eight employees. We alternated days for the three part-time workers to maintain social distance.”

Just like it was for everyone else, it was a big change for the bookstore to transition to all online.

“We ordered an assortment of boxes and padded mailers. We worked with art faculty to create kits of art supplies for their classes and ordered boxes big enough for them,” Thornton said.

“We fielded hundreds of phone calls and emails from students, faculty and parents, all trying to sort out new processes,” Thornton said. “As we ramped up production, we recruited volunteer help from staff in other departments to package orders and print shipping labels.”

During the week before spring classes started, the bookstore employees brought the production level up to 120 orders shipped per day.

“With extra help and some reconfigured workspaces we were able to double that during the first week of class,” Thornton said. “Everyone on staff stepped in to help. We learned new processes and adapted as we went.”

The staff worked really well together, focused on getting books to students as quickly as possible, he said. Most orders were processed and shipped within 24 hours.

“The biggest challenges were helping students with financial assistance,” Thornton said.

For example, students with Running Start book assistance could charge up to $75 to Running Start and pay the balance if it was more.

“Each of those transactions required that we process it at a cash register outside of the online order system,” Thornton said. “By the end of the second week of classes we had shipped over 1,000 orders.”

Students showed a lot of resilience dealing with all the changes, he said.

“We communicated with students through email and phone and when students needed help we got together and found solutions that worked,” Thornton said.

“At this time we expect to do the majority of our business online in the fall term,” Thornton said. “Of course, one thing I have learned this spring is that changes happen faster than we can make plans!”

“We are currently working on operating plans for several levels of access, depending on guidance by Governor Inslee, CDC and campus safety,” Thornton said. “We sure hope to see students back on campus and will do what is necessary to keep everybody safe.”