W H Smith closes 60% of stores as Johnson shuts shops and libraries

W H Smith closes 60% of stores as Johnson shuts shops and libraries

W H Smith has closed around 60% of its shops after the Prime Minister ordered non-essential stores to shut due to the coronavirus outbreak.

In a TV broadcast last night (23rd March), Boris Johnson announced stringent new social distancing measures including the closure of all libraries and banning public gatherings of more than two people. Stores that sold non-essential goods such as bookshops would also need to shut, he said.

W H Smith said it would now be closing all its stores aside from those “designated essential”. But it said around 40% of its outlets would remain open including Post Office branches and hospital stores so NHS staff could be supplied with food and drink.

Branches in certain key travel locations including airports, some mainline stations and small towns would also be kept open the firm said.

The response comes after government guidelines issued last night excluded a list of shops from having to close. These include food shops, pharmacies, corner shops, newsagents and post offices. Waterstones and Blackwell's announced store closures over the weekend.

A statement from W H Smith said: “We have served our communities for over 227 years. Further to the Prime Minister’s most recent announcement, we are closing all stores apart from those designated essential by the government.  At this critical time, W H Smith will continue to provide vital Post Office services for customers to access key postal and banking services; food and drinks to NHS staff from our hospital stores; and a convenience offer in key small towns and travel locations where communities rely on our smaller newsagent services.  About 40% of our UK store portfolio is remaining open to provide customers with these important services.

“We are very proud of all our colleagues across our stores who are doing an outstanding job in continuing to serve our customers and communities. Our key priority is their health and wellbeing and we have a number of strict measures in place to keep everyone safe and supported.  Given the fast evolving situation, our stores will be under constant review and we will support our colleagues through this difficult time."

The Works has als confirmed that all its 540 stores are closed. Trading director Andrea Bennett told The Bookseller: "We chose to close all of our stores at 5pm last night (Monday), this decision was made by the senior management team on Sunday night and cascaded to stores yesterday. Our website remains open to ensure we can continue to serve our millions of wonderful customers." 

Johnson's decision to close libraries comes after Libraries Connected, in a letter to ministers, demanded further action.

Although the vast majority of local authorities had already closed all their libraries, as of Monday afternoon, around 22 still had some open according to the organisation. Those that had some buildings still running included Waltham Forest in London, Worcestershire and Sefton, which pointed out in a tweet  to concerned residents over the weekend that “libraries are not amongst the public facilities listed for compulsory closure by the government at the moment”.

On Friday, Unison members working at 10 Lambeth libraries walked out, saying they refused to come back to work because of fears over coronavirus.

Libraries Connected said authorities had been forced to make the decision whether or not to close based on their own interpretation of government guidance and this was not enough.

According to the charity, libraries have been responding to the crisis with innovative ideas and had seen spikes of up to 100% in e-membership in recent days. Other ideas include Facebook Storytime, online book clubs, live streaming activities via social media and rotas of phone calls to regular library users.

In York, the local council moved to shut its libraries over the weekend following public health advice and has moved the service online. The local authority is also looking to deliver books to those without online access.

Meanwhile, Gardners confirmed it was still open following the announcement. Head of business development Nigel Wyman told The Bookseller: "Gardners is still up and running and sending books to where they are needed. However as we have done from the very start of this pandemic we have taken the wellbeing of our staff and their families very seriously...  All staff have the ability to distance themselves from their workers and this has been enhanced even further in the last 24 hours.  Where possible we have people working from home as per the government's advice. We are following all the guidance that we have been given by the government and continue to do so."