April 14, 2021

At last! Bibliophiles rejoice as bookshops finally reopen across England

by

It has been a long, cold, hard winter with much of the high street closed in England, but finally, this week, non-essential shops reopened for the first time since the beginning of January. Some headed straight for the pub. Some headed to Primark. But for us literature lovers, the siren call of books luring us to their shelves was impossible to ignore. As book critic Jake Kerridge wrote for the Telegraph:

“I haven’t really missed regular haircuts or shopping for clothes, but a great privation for me over the past year has been not being able to browse in a book shop. The rest of the group of people queueing outside Hatchards on Monday morning appear to feel the same. We are like rabbits waiting for the greengrocer’s to open…”

And not a moment too soon. According to the i paper, as of last month, lockdown measures have cost UK stores £27bn ($37bn) in lost sales since the beginning of the pandemic with only shops classed as ‘essential’ such as food retailers, pharmacies and new agents allowed to remain open. The Office for National Statistics reported that consequently, 67,000 retail jobs vanished last year. Last November, The Booksellers Association’s Managing Director, Meryl Halls, wrote an open letter to the government, asking for bookshops to be classified as essential during England’s second lockdown. The letter read:

“Our members are prevented from opening, yet see garden centres and food shops selling books, when bookshops are quite clearly the best places to sell books to consumers at this crucial time of year. Their livelihoods and those of their staff are already in jeopardy from the first lockdown, and their chances of survival into 2021 would be much improved by having a solid Christmas sales period…

“Bookshops are resilient and creative, and this is not a case of special pleading; this is a request for an acknowledgement that books matter, and that therefore bookshops matter and should be allowed to stay open.”

The plea landed on deaf ears, and as we headed into our third lockdown in January 2021, supermarkets and some other essential retailers continued to sell books, while bookshops themselves could not. Stores steadfastly did what they could to remain afloat during these difficult times. In the UK, Bookshop.org launched in November 2020, allowing those without their own websites to retail online, to date raising over £1.2 million for local bookshops. Many shops offered a click & collect service, some even hand-delivering books. Digital events became the norm and subscription services came into their own. Now that shops are finally allowed to open, the delight of booksellers and readers alike has been radiant, shining bright on social media.

Whilst booksellers rally to their tills, Halls spoke to The Bookseller about the tough road ahead to recovery and the support needed to keep the lights on in our local bookshops:

“The coming months are going to be vital for many booksellers who have been impacted by prolonged and repeated lockdowns and restrictions during key sales periods. While we are supporting our members, as ever, with advice, guidance updates and initiatives such as the BA Covid Recovery Fund and Reopening Kits, it is essential that the entire industry comes together behind bookshops, from publishers and authors to distributors and other trade partners.

“Bookshops are a crucial part of the books ecosystem, providing vital community hubs, introducing readers to new titles and authors, and bringing the benefits of reading to a weary population. Booksellers need all of our support if they are going to continue to do their fantastic work within their communities.”

Echoing the community spirit, Anna Worden from independent bookshop Rhyme and Reason in Sheffield told the Sheffield Telegraph:

“It is been great that we have managed to stay open at all throughout but it is lovely having customers back in, with the fact to face conversation.

 “They are happy to be here. Someone said all their mates have been ecstatic about the pubs being open but they were like, ‘nope, I want to go to the bookshop’. That’s nice to hear.”
So please, get out there when you feel safe and comfortable to, mask up, abide by social distancing rules and pop into your local bookshop. They’ll be delighted to see you and sell you a pint or two of books.

 

 

Nikki Griffiths is the managing director of Melville House UK.

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