Bookshops Are Back, Alright!
By Ellen Tyldesley, Fine Mayer and Isabel Hassan
As members of The Publishing Post Bookshops team, we were all very excited for bookshops to reopen in April. Ellen and Isabel visited bookshops recently and wanted to share their experiences of post-lockdown book shopping!
Going to the Bookshop
Travelling to my local Waterstones is an activity I was looking forward to all year, walking past the closed front doors has been heart-breaking! I had convinced myself that for my first trip, I would pop in for just one book and ease myself back into shopping in public again. As someone who had supported the book industry very well during lockdown, I already had a shelf full of unread books. I massively overestimated my self-control. I practically ran through the front door, only briefly pausing to use the hand sanitising station and was completely entranced for the next half an hour, walking away with a bag full of new reads. To find hidden treasures buried on the shelves that an algorithm could never have suggested is such a treat, and something I won’t be taking for granted in the future. As much as I relished the familiarity and homeliness of returning to a bookshop, things have undeniably changed.
There are hand sanitising stations all over the shop, plenty of reminders for customers to keep their distance and a transparent screen at the till. However, none of these measures tarnished the experience of being back in a bookshop. I felt safe and was reassured that the people around me were as safe as we could be.
Like Ellen, I also had a trip to Waterstones. I have supported independent bookshops online throughout the pandemic but wanted a trip back to my home away from home. I couldn’t help having a browse online and ended up reserving three books which I collected and paid for in store. I went to a different branch than Ellen but felt completely safe with mandatory masks, hand sanitising stations and social distancing in place. I went with my friend who ended up browsing for a book, and it was so lovely to see kids clutching new books or stretching to reach a book just beyond their height. I saw friends chatting quietly, discussing their finds or purchases, and Waterstones’ staff were as friendly, welcoming and helpful as ever. Some shops felt a bit frenzied and chaotic, but each Waterstones staff member took the time and care with customers. It made my first visit to a bookshop in over a year a great one.
Interview with Rachel: Senior Bookseller at Waterstones
We also spoke to Rachel, a senior bookseller at Waterstones in Aberdeen, Scotland where bookshops have only just re-opened on 25 April.
How was your first day back in the shop? Did you have any memorable encounters with enthusiastic readers?
It was a lovely day! It was so exciting to be back in the bookshop, and it was lovely to share that excitement with the customers! Opening the doors at 9 a.m. was really thrilling, and there was a lovely sense of community with the other shops in the centre we're in! Lots of our regulars visited to pick up new stacks of books. It was great fun discussing what they had been reading over lockdown! There were lots of bags packed full of books leaving with lucky readers, I felt quite jealous!
What challenges have you come across in preparing for the big reopening?
I think the biggest challenge has been getting all the new books into the shop for reopening! There are loads of new paperbacks, from Shuggie Bain to Hamnet and new offerings from Kazuo Ishiguro and Nikesh Shukla among loads of others! Making sure we had all these books in the shop and on the shelves for reopening was a challenge, but I think we got there. It was very odd returning to the shop in April with Christmas displays and decorations up, but it has been lots of fun taking them down and resetting the shop for spring!
What books are you really excited to share with your customers? Give us your best pitch!
Oooh, this is a tough question! Personally, I read a lot of children's books. One of my new favourites is Show Us Who You Are by Elle McNicoll, a second novel from Elle. It's a science fiction novel about artificial intelligence with an amazing neurodivergent main character called Cora! This book will blow your mind, it made me laugh and cry! I also love Amari and the Night Brothers by B.B Alston. This follows Amari who finds herself part of a secret organisation called the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs. It's like Men in Black crossed with Nevermoor, I highly recommend it to all ages!