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Indie bookshops defy Covid to record highest numbers for seven years | Books

Jane James was a contract bookkeeper till the pandemic hit and most of her enterprise disappeared. Somewhat than ready for it to trickle again, she determined to embark on a dream she’d held for greater than a decade and open her personal unbiased bookshop in Thetford, Norfolk.

She’s not the one one. Final yr may need appeared like an odd time to launch a brand new enterprise, however in accordance with figures from the Booksellers Affiliation, greater than 50 new bookshops had been opened in 2020, taking the physique’s unbiased bookshop membership to 967 retailers within the UK and Eire. That is up from 890 shops in 2019, 883 in 2018 and 868 in 2017. The latter figure marked the end of a decline that began in 1995, when 1,894 indie bookshops had been recorded.

“It’s extraordinary. Are you able to think about, should you’ve been planning to open a bookshop for a yr and then you definitely open it into this pandemic?” stated BA managing director Meryl Halls. “I’m questioning if the opening of bookshops by new entrants shall be fairly a factor in 2021, as a result of there are such a lot of people who find themselves taking inventory of their lives within the pandemic. Operating a bookshop has all the time been a pretty proposition for a sure form of individual, so I do assume that individuals who wish to change their life would possibly attempt to make it work.”

Nevertheless, there’s a extra difficult image behind that determine. Whereas 50 new bookshops opened within the UK and Ireland in 2020, round 100 closed their doorways – greater than 10% of the 890 retailers recorded in 2019. The remainder of the web improve is because of an inflow of current retailers becoming a member of the BA for the primary time, most likely with the intention to get assist in the course of the pandemic. However 967 is the very best variety of unbiased bookshops recorded since 2013.

“It has been an extremely troublesome yr for booksellers, and the excessive avenue as a complete, so it’s implausible to see the variety of unbiased bookshops within the UK and Eire improve for a fourth consecutive yr,” stated Halls.

Not Just Books in Thetford, Norfolk
Not Simply Books in Thetford, Norfolk. {Photograph}: Supplied by store

For James, who opened Thetford’s Not Simply Books in October, it’s been a “fast studying curve”. Her first month noticed gross sales that exceeded her expectations, as locals rushed to embrace the store. November was a “combined bag”, as non-essential retailers closed their doorways, after which she “threw all the things” on the store within the run-up to Christmas. She has now closed once more and is isolating along with her household after her husband examined optimistic for Covid. “We’re urgent pause in the intervening time, which is a disgrace,” she stated.

Julie Richardson signed the lease for her store, Ginger and Pickles youngsters’s bookshop in Edinburgh, because the UK headed into its first lockdown. She had wished to open a bookshop for about 30 years, and when the store underneath her flat got here up for lease, she couldn’t resist. She refitted it herself, utilizing furnishings from her flat,and opened on the finish of the summer time.

“There have been many instances I had thought this was a nasty thought given the present scenario,” she stated. However prospects have beloved it: “I’m lucky to stay and work in a neighbourhood the place the residents actually like to buy regionally. I’ve additionally had so many individuals inform me that they’re so completely happy to discover a bookshop solely devoted to youngsters and teenagers. I really like books and I believe it’s so necessary for younger folks to learn.”

Bear Bookshop, one other youngsters’s bookshop, was opened by English instructor Jenny McCann in Bearwood, West Midlands, simply because the November lockdown ended. “I’ve all the time dreamed of getting my very own bookshop. I used to be on maternity go away and through an evening feed noticed somebody had tweeted that their very own bookshop was about to open. I had a second of absolute readability that this was what I wished to do,” McCann stated. “After we did lastly open, I used to be overwhelmed by how many individuals walked in and stated, ‘I’m so glad you’re right here.’”

Pandemic restrictions imply she’s been in a position to commerce for just one month. “I had so many occasions deliberate that we will’t do now, which has been disappointing and irritating,” she stated.

However gross sales in December had been sturdy and McCann stays optimistic. “There was a second early within the pandemic the place I questioned if this was a horrible thought, however I believe we want these items greater than ever now,” she stated. “Leaving a longtime profession to open your individual enterprise is all the time an act of optimism. I’ve all the time been a really optimistic individual. Final yr was positively a check, however I stay hopeful.”

On the BA, Halls believes that the shuttering of excessive streets across the nation introduced dwelling to many customers the significance of their native excessive avenue. “We’ve campaigned for years in regards to the excessive avenue being in jeopardy, and you possibly can not have designed an experiment as an example the purpose higher than Covid did,” she stated.

Whereas many booksellers tailored to the pandemic by establishing web sites, providing click-and-collect providers and sending employees out handy ship books, many retailers, together with chains Waterstones and Blackwell’s, have needed to cease even click-and-collect because of the third lockdown.

Halls predicted 2021 can be difficult. “We’ve not seen mass closures but as a result of retailers have all been preventing for survival. Primarily, they’ve survived. I want to assume that our numbers would possibly maintain regular for 2021. However I’m anticipating that we’re going to lose a slew of companies which are, perhaps for different causes, feeling unviable,” stated Halls. “Nevertheless, 2020 proved the resilience, resourcefulness and dedication of booksellers. We are going to do all the things we will to assist them as they appear forward and plan for a post-pandemic future.”

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