Curbside pickup at retail stores is still taboo in Berkeley, but some now offer home delivery

Retailers are allowed to deliver as long as they only deliver goods that were in their inventory at the start of the shutdown.

Moe’s Books started making deliveries this week. Photo: Elena Ryapolova-Webb

On Monday, all retail stores in San Francisco may be able to start offering curbside pickup – as long as the number of COVID-19 cases doesn’t rise too quickly. Marin and San Mateo counties are also planning to allow that service

In Berkeley, however, the only businesses able to offer curbside pickup are those considered “essential,” which mainly includes restaurants and food-related businesses.

Berkeley is unlikely to loosen any of its shelter-in-place restrictions until the city’s health officer can assess the impact of recent revisions of the shelter-in-place order, said Matthai Chakko, the city’s spokesman. Since it often takes about two weeks for newly infected people to show symptoms (the latest shelter-in-place order was announced April 29; changes went into effect May 4), officials are waiting until at least next week before they consider any changes to the order, he said.

But some retail businesses deemed “not essential” are pivoting slightly — they are doing home deliveries. The April 29 SIP revision said that retail businesses could offer home delivery, as long as they only delivered goods that were in their inventory at the start of the shutdown.


Mrs. Dalloway’s bookstore on College Avenue in the Elmwood started delivering books around Berkeley and parts of Oakland this week, said Marion Abbot, one of the co-owners. The owners and their families delivered 10 books on Monday and Tuesday, she said. All deliveries are non-contact.

Customers could previously order online and the books were shipped from the warehouse of Ingram, a book distributor. That could take a week or more. In the new system, customers can call the bookstore between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., and talk directly to a bookseller. If the book is in stock, it can be at a customer’s house later that day, said Abbott.

“People are so much happier it’s so much faster,” she said.

Moe’s Books also started making deliveries this week, according to Doris Moskowitz, the owner. She said she had been confused last week when Gov. Newsom announced that bookstores in certain parts of the state could offer curbside pickup. It turned out that Berkeley bookstores couldn’t because the city’s shelter-in-place order is stricter than the state’s and the locale with the strictest law prevails.

“After all of that drama last week, we figured out that we could take books to people’s homes,” said Moskovitz. “Maybe we could have before, but we were mostly just shipping before that. The department of economic development said, “No pickup, but drop off is ok.” So, we started telling people and doing it. It is actually pretty fun.”

Florists were also confused by the mixed messaging. Some announced they would offer curbside pickup, only to withdraw the offer after the city of Berkeley reiterated that would violate the shelter-in-place order. Dozens of florists offered delivery services for Mother’s Day, even though Berkeley’s shelter-in-place order states that stores can only deliver existing inventory.

“Finding the information out about what you are and aren’t allowed to do is sometimes difficult,” said Uel Carter, the owner of Fantastic Comics. “There are so many different voices saying different things.”

Fantastic Comics is not offering delivery because it is in the middle of moving from Shattuck Avenue to a new location at 1708A Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive.

Business owners and customers may continue to be confused, because the once-united Bay Area is going its separate ways on shelter-in-place rules. Alameda County, Berkeley and Santa Clara County have not loosened orders, while San Francisco, Marin and San Mateo have announced their intentions to do so.

Pegasus Books is also offering home delivery. One advantage is that direct sales bring in more money than sales from the distributor, said Amy Thomas, president of Pegasus.

“We get maybe 30-40 orders a day, many of them small orders, but hey, we like keeping our community close,” Thomas wrote in an email. “My son does almost all of the deliveries, to keep it small and safe. He has collected many lovely and loving notes from these customers.”

After Games of Berkeley shut down in response to the shelter-in-place order, local artist Nigel Sussman painted a mural over the boarded-up windows. Photo: Games of Berkeley

For the first time since mid-March, two workers are inside Games of Berkeley processing orders to ship, according to Erik Bigglestone, the managing owner. Since the SIP order went into effect, the store’s website has announced that it would take orders, but in-store inventory would not be shipped until California and Berkeley declared it was safe to do so. That has finally happened, said Bigglestone.

His workers have packaged up 23 orders in the last few days, he said. One obstacle the store faces is that it doesn’t yet have enough boxes to use for shipping, though Bigglestone is ordering more.

Games of Berkeley isn’t yet offering home delivery, though.

“As much as I want to jump on home delivery, I want to make sure my people are safe,” he said and offered a full explanation on his store’s website.

Frances Dinkelspiel is co-founder and executive editor of Berkeleyside. Email: frances@berkeleyside.com.