The Booksellers Association (BA) has called for clarity over when bookshops will be allowed to re-open following Boris Johnson's announcement that some stores could open again from 1st June.
In an address to the country yesterday (10th May), the Prime Minister said the lifting of coronavirus restrictions would depend on the rate of infections and the reproduction rate remaining below one.
He said: “At the earliest by 1st June, after half-term, we believe we may be in a position to begin the phased re-opening of shops and to get primary pupils back into schools in stages.”
Johnson also said workers who cannot work from home should be encouraged to travel to their jobs this week, avoiding public transport if they could. Further guidance is being issued later today and the proposals will be debated in the House of Commons.
The BA, which has now launched a £50,000 fund to help its members prepare to safely re-open once lockdown restrictions are lifted, said bookshops should be among the first to re-open. It cited a survey of members showing 45% of booksellers felt strongly that bookshops should be deemed essential and allowed to safely re-open versus 13% feeling strongly that they shouldn’t.
The survey also revealed that, while 76% of bookshops are open for business, operating stores are trading at just 20% of normal turnover levels, with 65% of stores expecting to re-open partially when they are able to, 30% fully, and 4% not at all.
BA m.d. Meryl Halls said: “Bookshops need to be in possession of clear guidance on safe re-opening protocols. Our bookshops need to know their staff and customers are going to be safe and responsibly cared for in the new era. The mood of our membership tells us that they are keen for bookshops to be deemed essential, though they need to be able to trade safely. We will be working to support them every step of the way.
"There is a lot of concern amongst booksellers as to how best to prepare for the practical realities of re-opening bookshops once lockdown restrictions are lifted. Above all, the consensus among members has been the safety of staff is paramount. We hope that this fund will ease some of that anxiety for our members, helping them to ready their businesses so that they, their staff and customers can return to bookshops safely and with confidence.”
The BA fund will be used to provide a £50 per member grant to purchase protective screens for till points, or other protective materials. It will also allow for the provision of a kit to all BA independent members, which will include safe distance signage, floor vinyls, posters, shelf talkers and other in-store materials.
Alongside the fund, the BA is currently reviewing protective screens, and will be circulating a list of suppliers to its members shortly. It is also working with Gardners on the provision of PPE equipment for bookshops, including disposable face masks and shielding face visors.
David Prescott, c.e.o. of Blackwells, welcomed the prime minister's announcement but said the re-opening of branches was likely to be phased.
He said: “We’ve been planning the re-opening of our shops for some weeks now and the likelihood that the re-opening programme is likely to be staggered with flagships in say Oxford and Edinburgh, as well as a large number of university-based campus shops.
“The 1st June date is a helpful marker, but hopefully we’ll get much more detail when further guidance is published today.”
A spokesperson for Waterstones said: "We are well prepared to open our shops as soon as we are permitted to do so. We will do so cautiously, with extensive measures in place to ensure the safety of both our booksellers and our customers."
Stephen Lotinga, c.e.o. of the Publishers Association, called for more detail from the government. He said: “It is welcome that the government believe the country can now move towards easing lockdown measures, but businesses need much more detailed guidance on how to do this safely and we hope that will come with the statements to parliament later today.
“The whole industry needs to know when bookshops will be allowed to re-open so that we can prepare and put in place measures to ensure staff and customer safety. Re-establishing the supply chain, when is it safe to do so, is key to the survival of the UK’s publishing industry. In addition to this, it is important that the financial support the government has been providing is not suddenly cut off.”
Booksellers are invited to take part in a survey from The Bookseller about re-opening plans: https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/bookshops.Tell us your views on whether you plan to re-open, and if so, how.
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