Bookshops in Ireland are set to reopen in June as part of an easing of lockdown measures introduced following the Covid-19 outbreak.
Under plans unveiled by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, small retail outlets that can observe social distancing measures will be allowed to open on 8th June. Other non-essential retailers will be able to open again on 29th June, with shopping centres to follow on 10th August.
John Keane, chair of Bookselling Ireland, said most shops were planning a phased reopening with shorter hours and fewer staff before ramping up their business properly again.
He told The Bookseller: “With around 40% of bookshops closed for all business and the remainder partially open – mainly doing mail order – and trading at an average of 20% of what their normal turnover would be, it’s encouraging to see the light at the end of the tunnel for bookshops.”
“We know that most booksellers are planning a phased reopening with shorter opening hours and reduced staff to begin with. We also know that customer and staff safety is paramount, so they will have appropriate plans in place for a secure shopping environment. And we know that the book-loving Irish people love their bookshops and can’t wait to reconnect with them when they can.”
One of the stores planning to reopen on 8th June is Dingle Bookshop in Dingle, County Kerry, where co-owner Camilla Dinkel said she was keen to get going again after a hugely challenging few months.
She said: "Having fought off along with other independents the electronic threat, we are part of the thrilling revival of the walk-in bookshop, making the Irish Times top 30 list last year. That is our true identity. During the pandemic customers have been faithful to us online, but there is no substitute for the face to face conversation, even though it may be through a plastic screen.
"We appreciate that many people will be cautious about going into shops so our main emphasis once we reopen will be on keeping staff and customers safe through distancing and sanitising. It won’t be hard to lay out a path in our little shop, and until things return to normal we will be able to control the numbers. Our locals are our lifeblood, the more so as we expect very few visitors in Dingle this summer. We can’t wait to greet them in person again on 8th June."
However, the announcement has come too late for Blessington Book Store in Blessington, County Wicklow, which has announced it is closing at the end of the month. Owner Janet Hawkins said she had tried her best to keep it going during the lockdown but reopening with social distancing measures would not be viable.
She explained: “In order to meet the high overheads of a retail premises and the wages of the staff running it, we need to have a full coffee shop and Christmas sales as they were in 2019. Living with Covid-19 for months or years to come means this is not possible. If we can only allow four people into the bookshop at a time — not all will buy a book — and have to disinfect everything they touch, we will simply not be able to pay the bills."
She said: “I have worked here on my own for the last three weeks selling books online. This is a fiercely competitive sector and even with the good will of customers wanting to buy from me, I could not make enough to have paid someone to do it. Each sale was very labour intensive compared to machine-run, mega online booksellers. More importantly it was a poor substitute for the real bookshop experience that people crave.
“Today we started selling take away coffees and treats with some success. If that support continues for the next few weeks we will try to find an affordable premises to keep that going. Whenever in the future we can get back to shopping and socialising as we did just a couple of months ago, I would be happy to help set up a community bookshop for Blessington.”