Shrewsbury's Button & Bear children's bookshop to close

Shrewsbury's Button & Bear children's bookshop to close

Children's bookshop Button & Bear in Shrewsbury is to close blaming the "fickle" high street and customer expectations on price.

According to the owners, the shop is closing after four years as it cannot "operate, let alone start to compete" with Amazon and supermarkets and the expectation of cheap books on demand. 

"Most days you have customers coming in with their phones — taking pictures so that they can remember the title the next time they are in, showing us their phones with the cheaper Amazon price or sending an Amazon link saying they would love to support us and buy from us but can we match the price", said Louise Chadwick, the shop's manager, told The Bookseller. 

"We are working in an environment of customers expecting to have the book immediately; if we have it we can win over a next-day delivery but that requires a huge amount of stockholding. Instead a curated selection means that you know your books inside out and can help guide people to a title that might work for them.

"We spend a lot of time with customers and for every sale we probably spend around three times as long with customers who come in for our knowledge who then leave and buy from elsewhere".

The business orginally set up as a bookstore with an adjoining coffee shop, but found that although it brought in additional customers, it detracted from the book business and required more staff. In May 2019, the coffee shop was closed and the bookstore extended, which increased sales. 

However, Chadwick said the reality of the high street had badly impacted the company, and made the logistics of customers visiting the shop difficult. "We have been impacted by the increase in car parking charges — our customers often have prams and buggies and if they live out of town and drive in the cost-effective car parks are on the outskirts requiring them to walk in. This can be tricky if you have a baby and a toddler.

"Also, these car parks are the very ones that close if the river is high. Why come in and pay for parking when you can drive to the retail parks, pull up outside and park for free.  There, any books, albeit an exceptionally limited choice, can be bought from a supermarket or, if they are not available, they are just one click away online".

The shop has faced a host of unprecedented setbacks, including flooding in February and closed car parks, which has led to lower footfall and fewer customers. The severe weather earlier in the year saw the rivers Wye and Severn reach their highest-ever recorded levels and access to the town centre was cut off for three weeks leading to company's events being cancelled.

Chadwick said the distribution and stock supply problems many independent bookshops have faced added to the problem, with the uncertainty surrounding Bertrams a "significant" hindrance. 

"Over the past few months with Bertrams unavailable and, despite Gardners pulling out all the stops but working with a significantly reduced number of staff, it has been difficult to get stock," she said. "Most people have been understanding but as we move into a new phase with supermarkets and Amazon having stock and bookshops at the back of the queue, we cannot compete."

Button & Bear was a regional winner (Midlands) in 2020's Independent Bookshop of the Year category at the British Book Awards, and hosted many community events, including baby yoga and ballet classes, and activities for children. 

 "Those in the book trade are passionate about what they do and connecting books and readers gives the best sense of achievement at the end of a day," said Chadwick.

"[It's] a sad time but we're hoping that in some way we will be able to continue to work with the community to develop readers of the future."