It has been a difficult year for independent bookshops across Wales, but several have risen to the challenge, going to extra lengths to connect with their communities and keep growing.
Rhiannon Elis-Williams, co-owner of bilingual bookshop Awen Menai in Menai Bridge, Anglesey, says that while the past year has been “exceptionally difficult” in some ways, there have been upsides too. While she felt “a lack of purpose” when the shop had to close owing to Covid- 19 restrictions, Elis-Williams found positives in realising “how much our service was appreciated and missed by our regulars”. The lockdown also gave the shop a chance to upgrade its website, which has already proved to be “very successful”, and to support its community with a click-and-collect service and local doorstep deliveries.
Jo Knell, owner of Cardiff-based bookshop Cant a mil, which specialises in Welsh-language books, feels her team have “coped pretty well, on the whole”. With a new website already in place pre-lockdown, the retailer was in a “healthy position” to cope despite the physical bookshop’s closure. Obstacles during the past year have included managing stock and customers’ expectations, but the support from regular customers and the growth of the website have provided a boost. Cant a mil also grew its social media presence and looking ahead, Knell aims to “build our online presence still further”, as well as enhancing the shop’s stock.
During the pandemic, Diane Bailey and Geoff Young at Penrallt Books in Machynlleth, Powys, formed closer bonds with sales reps and publishers, but their highlight was “being able to contribute the overall community effort in the town”. They launched several initiatives, including: donating around 300 books to local children; an exhibition of photographs taken inside Nevill Hall Hospital in Abergavenny; and promotions for the first Crime Cymru (Virtual) Festival and the Tir na N-Og children’s book awards shortlist.
Diane Bailey and Geoff Young (left) and inside their bookshop Penrallt Books (right)
During lockdowns Bailey and Young also refreshed both the look of the store and its book selection, and moved their specialist photography titles to a rented gallery space three doors down, which is due to open at the end of May to coincide with the bookshop’s 10th anniversary. The pair plan to develop the gallery’s website into an online shop and have also just opened submissions for their annual photography exhibition.
Bailey and Young credit the emotional support provided by the Booksellers’ Association and fellow booksellers, as well as distributor Gardners’ home delivery service, and financial injections from the Welsh Government and the Books Council of Wales, with keeping the business going. The independent was also one of the beneficiaries of Bookshop.org, as their membership enabled them to access pooled funds for indies raised through the platform’s sales. They say: “We truly felt part of the indie movement, which for us, in our tiny town tucked away in the hills of Wales, was wonderful.”
This feature is part of Books Council of Wales' collaborative content with The Bookseller published in the Wales Country Focus 2021. You can read content from the Wales Country Focus here.