Bookshops finally reopen their doors in England and Wales today (Monday 12th April) after more than three months of closure, with the Booksellers Association (BA) urging the trade to get behind them.
Booksellers have said they are raring to throw open their doors and serve customers, and are optimistic about trading over the next year.
The Booksellers Association has sent new point-of-sale kits to help with safe reopening of bookshops this month, with floor stickers, shelf wobblers, consumer messaging and posters.
BA m.d. Meryl Halls warned of the hardship booksellers have faced over the pandemic, and the consistent support retail would need to recover. She told The Bookseller: “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. We are delighted that bookshops in England and Wales are able to reopen on Monday 12th April, and we know that the book-loving public are excited to safely visit their favourite bookshops in person once again.
“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.”
All English and Welsh Waterstones branches reopen today, with the exception of the Leadenhall Market and Liverpool Street Station outlets in London and Foyles in Birmingham Grand Central, though management intends to reopen these "as soon as footfall allows". Scottish, Northern Irish and Irish Waterstones branches will follow as soon as restrictions allow, which is expected to be 26th April for Scotland. There is no confirmed date yet for Northern Ireland and Ireland.
Commenting on the reopening, Kate Skipper, Waterstones c.o.o., said: “We are so excited to be finally reopening our doors this morning. Our booksellers and warehouse team have been working tirelessly with publishers to ensure our shops are full of the brilliant new spring publishing and we are ready to safely welcome customers. We can’t wait to put books into customers hands once again.”
The chain has also opened its new concession store inside a branch of Next at Leicester's Fosse Park West site. The branch will offer a curated selection of more than 20,000 books with a bookselling team led by manager Louise Walker.
Blackwells is opening its three Oxford bookshops, and branches in Cambridge, Manchester, Newcastle, Liverpool and Derby today. Shops in Edinburgh and Aberdeen will follow on 26th April, with other campus outets set to open throughout the spring. Kate Stilborn, customer service and operations director, said: "We are so pleased to be able reopen our bookshops across England – with our Scottish bookshops to follow on 26th April of course. We know our customers have been missing our physical bookshops, because they’ve been telling us so throughout the last few months, and it will be a complete pleasure to see them back in our bookshops, chatting, browsing and buying books once more."
Phillip Larner, a bookseller in Blackwell’s Liverpool, added: "I can’t tell you how much we’re looking forward to seeing our customers once again – it’s been a wrench to have been away from them – and the bookshop - for such a long time, and now we’re just champing at the bit to return to what we do best – welcoming people into the bookshop and getting excited about books. Many of our regulars are like friends to be honest, so it will be a real joy to catch up with them after this period of absence."
Jane James, owner of Not Just Books in Thetford, is excited to throw open the doors of her Norfolk shop, and welcome back customers. "I think it’s a combination of nervousness and excitement, it's like our first opening in October all over again,” she said.
“Whilst the lockdown has been great in terms of having time to further tune our offering, nothing beats being able to browse and smell books and we look forward to welcoming back the regulars we have already established and who have supported us amazingly over the past three-and-a-half months but also those who have just found out about us — we're going to have a whale of a time!"
Ron Johns, who owns three bookshops in Cornwall, said he and his team are “well and truly ready” to start serving customers again. “All three shops have been working hard to return autumn titles and replace them with new spring publications," he said. “Things have been washed, painted and upgraded. We sure need to get cash flowing!”
Emma Corfield-Walters, owner of Book-ish in Crickhowell, Wales, said: “I'm so looking forward to opening our doors again, it's been a long four months and it will be great to get some normalcy back. So many of our customers have contacted us to say how much they are looking forward to seeing us, some who've only ever shopped with us online after discovering us over lockdown. We're expecting to be busy and are looking forward to introducing our new team to our reading community. We feel very optimistic for the rest of this year.”
Helgard Krause, c.e.o. of the Books Council of Wales, applauded the “resilience and imagination” of Welsh booksellers, responding to the challenges caused by the pandemic, and trying to remain operational during lockdown. She said of the booksellers: “Many have been organising digital book launches and other events, as well as selling online, over the phone or via click-and-collect as they continue to offer their unique personalised service to customers. But nothing can quite take the place of that special experience of browsing in a bookshop and we are delighted that they will be able to open their doors safely once more from today. We wish all booksellers the very best of luck and urge customers to support their local high street shop, at a time when books and reading are more important than ever."
For some booksellers, the 12th April will see them open to the public for the first time. Chrissy Ryan, owner of BookBar in Islington, is among them. She told The Bookseller she and her team are “buzzing to open our doors and welcome customers across the threshold for the very first time.
“Our shelves are bursting with new stock and over lockdown we built a fantastic customer base who are as excited about coming to browse as we are. In order to protect our customers and staff, only a limited number of people will be allowed in the shop at a time, but this will allow us to create an even more intimate and personalised customer experience, which is exactly what we're about.
“Although inside drinking won't be able to happen for a few more weeks, customers are also able to sit outside the shop with a coffee or glass of wine or order coffee to take away. BookBar is all about this social element so I'm looking forward to this as much as I am handselling all the brilliant books we have in stock. We had our first virtual book club this week with Costa Prize-winner Ingrid Persaud and will be continuing the virtual book clubs with Curtis Sittenfeld, Brit Bennett and Clare Chambers. It feels wonderful to be able to finally open our doors.”
Publishers are showing their support for booksellers through social media campaigns. As part of Canongate’s effort, the publisher commissioned a #ChooseBookshops illustration by Kristyna Baczynski for use across Twitter and Instagram, while other presses including Bloomsbury, Pan Macmillan, PRH and Hachette are all endorsing the hashtag. Bloomsbury has launched its author video, featuriing Neil Gaiman, Ann Patchett, Madeline Miller, and Khaled Hosseini.
Simon & Schuster Children’s intends to work with indies to facilitate school events, with authors including Abi Elphinstone and Ben Miller. Informal signings when it is safe to do so for authors are also anticipated, in addition to local bookstore tours.
Faber's authors and staff will be publicising their favourite independent bookshops across all the publishers' channels. Authors taking part include Ingrid Persaud, Emma Carroll, Mary Jean Chan, Hannah Lee, Rebecca Watson, Chris Power, Natasha Farrant, Jeffrey Boakye and Andrew O'Hagan.
Stephen Lotinga, c.e.o. of the Publishers Association, said: “The reopening of bookshops is a hugely important step for the books industry’s road to recovery and it’s great to see so many publishers supporting the call to Choose Bookshops. Bookshops are vital to the ongoing health and vibrancy of the industry and, of course, they are much-loved hubs in many communities. It’s a good day.”