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The end of lockdown for bookstores in the UK will almost certainly see a sharp upward spike in figures, judging by reports from booksellers who report a busy first few days. Bookstores reopened on 12 April and this comment from Rebecca MacAlister, Oxford area manager for the Blackwells chain, was typical: “We have had an amazing day! From the moment we opened, our customers, both old and new, have been coming through our doors, delighted to be back and we have been delighted to welcome them back. The sheer joy we have seen and the wonderful words that we have received has made this a very special day.”
Among independents, Hazel Broadfoot at Village Books in Dulwich, south London, said: “It is wonderful to be open again – so many customers with such big smiles. It’s been a really happy day, despite the snow first thing, and we’ve had queues outside most of the day. While it’s still not as normal as we’d like, it is nonetheless brilliant to be able to chat about books and press our favourites into customers’ ready hands.
“We’re selling everything across the board – even travel guides. Lots of children’s, lots of fiction, lots of hardbacks. Letters to Camondo by Edmund de Waal (Chatto) and Early Morning Riser by Katherine Heiny (Fourth Estate) — we are all huge fans of hers — have just arrived and they will definitely be at the top of our bestseller list. We’ve lots of pre-orders for them.”
The UK’s Bookseller’s Association (BA) has welcomed the reopening of bookstores in the UK, but its chief executive Meryl Halls has also warned of the hardship booksellers have faced over the pandemic, and the consistent support retail would need to recover.
“There is no denying that the past year has been very difficult for bookshops and the wider high street, and we have seen booksellers §§§show incredible creativity, determination and resilience in the face of unprecedented obstacles and challenges,” she said.
“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.”
Meanwhile, at Blackwell’s MacAlister sounded positive and added: “The best quote I’ve heard was from a student group coming in and one of them turned to their friends and said ‘This is far better than the pubs being open again!’ and they all agreed. Today has really shown what a good bookshop does for its community.”