Aurora bookshop faces backlash after mask requirement

Susan's Books and Gifts has faced both scrutiny and praise after the owner began requiring masks.

AURORA, Neb. (KLKN) – Aurora, home to 4,500 Nebraskans and located in Hamilton county, has had close to 450 cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic began. Of those cases, 150 of them are from the last two weeks.

Due to the urgency of the pandemic, Susan Williams, owner of Susan’s Books and Gifts, has mandated masks for customers while they’re shopping. The move sparking both anger and praise from locals and from those across the state.

“I do not want to get this disease and I don’t want anybody else to, especially the older population, who haven’t been in here since March,” Williams says.  “It’s just to protect each other.”

The shop, which has been a hub for thousands of used books, consignment children’s clothing, toys and other gifts for 19 years, has lost customers and business in an already difficult time due to Williams’ request.

Emails, Facebook messages show the anger from local community members – many of whom Williams says have been loyal customers.

One email from a customer reading, “My heart went out to you throughout 2020 and I made a couple purchases, but with the rules you will not come back from, I too will not come back.”

Williams began requiring masks in her store since the store reopened in July, after being closed since March.

Williams recounts multiple encounters with customers who have refused her request.

“I said kindly, ‘do you mind getting your mask?’ and she went to her car and drove away,” Williams explains. “that’s when I knew we were in a battle, but it was a battle that wasn’t necessary.”

Protecting others is Williams’ goal. As a mother, and someone who is married to a scientist, she finds it disappointing that others aren’t listening to the science, and to the hundreds of doctors in the state who are pleading Nebraskans to wear masks.

She also says it’s disappointing knowing that customers, and even friends, have decided to stop supporting the beloved local business just to avoid wearing a mask for five to 10 minutes.

But, she says it’s worth it in order to protect her community members and show others, especially the elderly who are stuck in their retirement communities, that she hasn’t forgotten them, and will do anything to help keep them safe.

“It’s important to me even if we lose business to make a stand and say, we care. They’re stuck in these places and I’m going to make an effort to get you out,” she says.  “I’m going to wear my mask. And if we find out later it didn’t work, we made an effort.”

However, there are some positives and support stemming from Williams’ decision. A twitter user, who heard of the store through a family member, tweeted about Williams’ situation. As a result, dozens of new online book orders were requested.

Williams was thrilled. “It just shows the power you of telling each other, because this is a store that’s needed.”

Throughout the pandemic, the store has been able to add more consignment clothing and used books – 14,000 of them – to their website for Nebraskans to order, allowing the shop to expand their reach.

Williams says the shop is also always accepting donations, used books and clothing from the community.

“If anyone walks in this door, I want them to leave feeling like they were somewhere that lifted them, and were given complete care.”

To learn more or to order from Susan’s Books and Gifts, you can visit the website here. 

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