Anush Sridharan and Gina Tomaine chose the bookstore for their first real night out since the pandemic began

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Keeping romance alive is a fraught pursuit these days. Bundle up and freeze at outdoor dining? Push shopping carts through the nearest Walmart? Stay inside with your partner 24/7 and deal with the increasing chance you’ll get on each other’s nerves?

A Kensington shop offers a compromise. The Head & The Hand Books will let you rent out the entire place for a 90-minute date night. The $65 fee even includes a glass of beer or wine.

Opened about two years ago on Coral Street near Lehigh Avenue, the fledgling indie bookseller started the special to stay alive. Last year’s revenue was about half what the operators originally projected.

The Head & The Hand creative director Claire Moncla realized she had to get, well, creative.

“People really want somewhere to go, to be safe about it and be thoughtful,’” Moncla remembers thinking. Because there was so little foot traffic in the shop, she realized, “there’s a possibility for us to do that safely.”

The shop already had a table and chairs, and with candles, it looked pretty romantic. Moncla lives just a few minutes from the shop — so she could bike home and leave couples alone inside.

She launched the date night program in November.

The date night set-up at The Head & The Hand Credit: Kimberly Paynter / WHYY

Things started off slow, wth reservations trickling in from friends and nearby neighbors. But the idea found a foothold. Within two weeks, the shop was notching two new reservations per day. Now that word has spread, reservations are going more than a month in advance.

“The ambiance is there,” Moncla said. “The idea of being alone in a space, especially for a literary person or book nerd, it’s like a kid-in-a-candy-shop idea.”

Want to get in on the guilt-free indoor action? Hit up The Head & The Hand’s website to peruse the open time slots (right now the first available are in March).

Choose between Tuesday, Thursday or Saturday night, and decide if you prefer a 5 p.m. or 6:30 p.m. start time. There’s a spot for you to fill in your top three musical artists, and Moncla will put together a 90-minute playlist.

When you book, you’ll secure an hour and a half alone inside. Moncla will turn on some flameless candles and leave you a serving of beer or wine. You can bring your own food and freely browse their book selection — with a 15% discount on all purchases at the end of the evening.

Tomaine and Sridharan browse the shelves before sitting down to their romantic dinner Credit: Kimberly Paynter / WHYY

Moncla sanitizes all the store’s surfaces after each date — and the reservations are purposely spaced 48 hours apart to give the store plenty of time to air out.

With the program growing in popularity, it’s a huge financial help. Moncla said the date nights are adding up to at least 20% total income for The Head & The Hand, which is owned and operated by Nic Esposito’s nonprofit publisher of the same name.

She’s thinking about expanding the idea to try to benefit more local businesses — some kind of partnership with Kensington restaurants, who would offer a discount on takeout to date night customers

If things keep going well, the program just might outlast the pandemic.

“We’ve had so much feedback from people asking us to keep it going afterward,” Moncla said. “We have no idea when ‘afterward’ is. But if people keep enjoying it, I’ll be doing it.”

The Head & The Hand Books is located at 2644 Coral St. Credit: Kimberly Paynter / WHYY

Michaela Winberg is a general assignment reporter at Billy Penn. She covers LGBTQ people and culture, public spaces, and transportation and mobility. She also sometimes produces radio and web features...