TThe first sign that things were finally getting back to normal in my store was when a customer walked in and said, “You were the last non-essential store I went to before closing, and I wanted you to be the first one I visited when it was over. . ” It was a happy and hopeful moment.
Last November I wrote about keeping an independent bookstore afloat during the pandemic: I am based in Levenshulme, south of Manchester; at the time it was a Covid hotspot and we were facing the prospect of another long mandatory shutdown period.
I was fully aware of the very real possibility that our store, along with many other independent businesses that rely on footsteps and the people who can actually walk through the door, may not survive. But for the most part I still felt, somehow, optimistic. So it seemed to me that there was a clear surge in the crowd toward supporting independent stores and local main streets. Most people seemed to agree, although some also accused me of being “falsely positive.”
Several months later, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that it has been a totally positive experience, but we are still here and thankfully our doors are now open once again.
Having a store that cannot be open to the public is really strange – there is a general feeling that time has stood still, as dust accumulates in your stock. When your store is open, you often complain that you are too busy to solve those complicated jobs like making new signage. If there was more time, life would be so much easier. So of course, in theory, the nonessential retail hiatus should have been an ideal time to do all the other things that running a store entails. Actually, like most of the people I’ve asked, we didn’t achieve any of that. There was a strange inertia as we waited for news of the reopening date.
Now, here we are finally: open once again, and hoping against hope that this is the end of the lockdowns, especially in Manchester, where ours has lasted so long. I felt nervous and nervous about reopening two weeks ago, especially since I am still waiting for my shot. When people walk into a bookstore, they want to browse, take their time, and chat frequently. And frankly, you wouldn’t want any kind of bookstore without that being possible for customers. However, I caught Covid last year, despite being very careful, when my daughter brought it home from school and she was very ill. So I have felt a level of risk when reopening.
However, the nerves only lasted about half an hour on the first day. They were quickly overcome by a sense of relief and joy, both from our clients and from ourselves. People now seem to be much more aware of wearing a mask all the time, and social distancing is more natural. Several times people said things like “we’re so glad you’re still here” and “we were worried you wouldn’t make it.” People talked about how much they missed going to the stores and wanted to keep going more often. I chatted until my throat ached: after many months of existing in our family bubble, I was visited by personal friends (before the Covid police started, they were also buying books!) And a bunch of familiar faces from the neighborhood. It just felt good. And normal.
I started out feeling overwhelmed and ended our first day feeling tired but excited. Just what the doctor ordered.
We received grants from the government to stay afloat and pay our bills while the store was closed, and without those, I am fully aware that we would face the future with considerable debt. As it is, we are unlikely to retire from our earnings, but no one goes into the business of selling independent books for untold riches; most of us are a group of dreamers. But things feel good. This is not the time to make big decisions or changes – for now we just want to breathe that bookstore air and stay calm.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism