Bertrams has announced it is temporarily closing because the risk to staff during the coronavirus pandemic is “proving too great”.
In a statement today, Bertram Group c.e.o. Raj Patel said he had “rather painfully” decided to close Bertram Books, Bertram Library Services, Dawson Books and Education Umbrella temporarily with effect from 1st April 2020. Orders already in the system would be fulfilled where stock is immediately available, he added.
Patel said in his statement: “Nothing is more important than the safety and wellbeing of colleagues in my company who have worked tirelessly in these uncertain times to furnish books to our customers worldwide through their passion and enthusiasm for the book industry.
“While I had put in place measures to safeguard the spread of coronavirus across the seven different locations in which we operate including contactless deliveries with our logistics partners, the risk is proving too great."
He added: “New and emerging information will guide us through the coming weeks and months, and I will be in touch as soon as I can with information about resuming services and meeting the future need of our customers and book readers. Thank you for your understanding during these surreal times.”
The wholesaler's announcement today came on the heels of Gardners also temporarily closing down its print books operation, joining the ranks of smaller outfits like Bookspeed and Central Books.
But Patel said the decision to close Bertrams had been a week in the planning as more and more booksellers like Waterstones announced they were closing and W H Smith reduced its footprint.
He told The Bookseller: “There wasn't much floorspace for books and we just thought we were going to carry all this expectation that sometime we're going to go back to normality. So it would be detrimental to carry on regardless of the economic situation and also for staff welfare.”
Patel, who said his staff would be furloughed, said safety measures had been prepared for in February in line with Public Health England guidance but in the end the nature of the coronavirus forced his hand.
He said: “The more I thought about it the more I thought why am I putting my people's lives at risk when you can see in the Excel Centre they've created space for 4,000 bodies. That brought it home.”
Online business Wordery, however, will remain running, with Patel saying it was providing a significant public service. But he said the rest of Bertrams' business would only reopen when customers' premises started opening again.
“We're just a distributor, we're only as good as the customer base,” he said.
The spate of warehouse closures will raise questions about how a business like Amazon can keep going while keeping its workers safe. But the web giant told The Bookseller a swathe of measures had been put in place to protect people at its fulfilment centres, where workers are now being paid an extra £2 an hour.
A spokesman said: “Since the early days of this situation, we have worked closely with local authorities and our people to proactively respond, ensuring we continue to serve customers while taking care of our people. We implemented proactive measures at all of our facilities to protect our people, including increased cleaning, and maintaining social distance, including between drivers and customers when making deliveries.
“The health of our people is our top priority, and it’s important to us that they remain home if they’re sick or if they or someone in their home has had a fever in the last 24 hours. To support our people during this time we have increased entitlement to paid time off and are enabling people to take leave of absence as appropriate.”
The company added it was continuing to prioritise and dispatch essential items for now, including “food, health and personal care products, books and items needed to work from home”.