Before you hit ‘buy now’ while perusing the digital bookshelves of that well-known retail giant, you might want to think again. The current COVID-19 pandemic may see us turning to the big names to secure our latest reading fix but there are smaller businesses in our region which desperately need our support. While social distancing and ensuring we only leave our homes to shop for essentials is the new norm, many local bookshops are reinventing the way they do business.
We asked a bunch of lovely Northern independent bookshops about how they’re navigating the coronavirus lockdown, how we can spend money to make a difference on our local high street, and how booksellers are having to think outside the box. Read on for Social Isolation Reading Lists, online book clubs, doorstep deliveries and, erm, loo roll characters.
Kate and Colin Lyall, owners of Lyall’s Bookshop, Todmorden, Lancashire
Lyall’s Bookshop has been a staple of Todmorden town centre for nearly 20 years. It was opened by Colin And Kate Lyall back in 2001 with the aim of providing a well-stocked and eclectic character bookshop.
Having just got over the business of being flooded in the most recent of the Todmorden floods, along comes COVID-19. Psychologically, at least in some ways, the first event prepared us for the second. I suppose the most heartening aspect of both events has been our community’s response. The good folk of Todmorden and the surrounding area have been brilliant. In respect to the floods, a small army of volunteers appeared at our shop door eager to help with the removal of saturated stock and begin the big clean up. We received a generous donation of books to replenish lost stock from individuals across the region and around the country. We also received the offer of books from the USA and esteemed authors such as Linda La Plante.
Then along comes coronavirus which leads to the inevitable shop closure. A notice like thousands of others appeared in the shop window beginning ‘we regret…’ So, what can we do? Well, first and foremost we can have a damn good tidy up and monster shelf-sorting session which is still ongoing. Our usual stock exploration has, at times, relied on the customers’ belief in serendipity (or that it possibly favours the brave) but no more. Our COVID-19 resolution is to organise, alphabetise and put stock readability back into reading.
In tandem with the mother of all Spring cleans, we have set up a search and deliver service. This is where we have invited customers to contact us on the phone or by email with their Social Isolation Reading List. We then scurry about in a more measured and dignified manner than in the past (post-tidy up) to find requested items. We then deliver to homes in the immediate area. Payment can be made through PayPal or via the shop letterbox.
Again, going back to community support, people who have requested books have made a point of saying how important it is to them to support their local bookshop and to invest in its survival.
For us at Lyall’s Bookshop, to be able to generate such loyalty and sense of community belonging is heartwarming. This should give all second-hand bookshops hope for the future. Customers of all generations are realising, once again, the value of second-hand books and, to their delight, often find that a good second-hand bookshop will always be, as it has always been, far, far greater than the sum of its parts. If little untidy at times.
Georgia Eckert, owner of Imagined Things Bookshop, Harrogate, North Yorkshire
Imagined Things is an independent bookshop in Harrogate town centre, situated in the beautiful and iconic Westminster Arcade on Parliament Street. It sells an eclectic mix of books across a range of genres for adults, young adults and children.
We’re still taking orders by email and then posting books we have in the shop either via Royal Mail or by dropping off books locally (and safely) to those who live nearby. For titles we don’t have in store, we’re also able to send books one at a time via our remaining supplier.
We are working hard to finish the website, so we’ll soon have all of our stock on there, which will make things easier for us and our customers. A small silver lining to come from the current crisis is having more time to get the website finished, which will also help us when things get back to some kind of normality.
We even held our monthly book club virtually and have plans to drop off this month’s book to members who want one.
Holly Carter and Martin Wilson, owners of Rare Mags, Stockport, Greater Manchester
Rare Mags is an independent magazine and bookshop based in Stockport. It sells books, prints, magazines and cards from local and global publishers along with homeware and gifts made by local artists and craftspeople.
We collect magazines, so you, at home, can collect magazines. At Rare Mags we have moved our stock home so that we can continue to trade online. We did this as we see the book and magazine industry, whether that be authors/editors/publishers/distributors, as our extended family and want to try and keep it all going in any little way that we can.
Books and magazines are a therapeutic way to spend time, whether you’re on a mountain in a cabin in Poland (Drive Your Plow Over The Bones Of The Dead), walking through the valleys and summits of the Cairngorms (The Living Mountain) or are after a kids’ book to distract a pesky pants. Stay safe, stay cultured.
Claire Grint, owner of Cogito books, Hexham, Northumberland
Here at Cogito our aim now, as always, is to continue to provide the highest standard of customer service while making sure everyone remains safe. To this end, although the physical doors of the bookshop remain closed at present, Claire is taking orders, chatting to customers and offering recommendations over the phone (01434 602555) and via email.
We’re delivering locally in our hometown of Hexham and posting books out to those further afield. We’re also able to gift wrap books and send accompanying cards out to friends and family.
The Cogito team are working from home putting together a host of interesting features on social media including book reviews and virtual tours of our bookshelves. Browse our website for lots of great bookseller recommendations and links to our social media. We’re also continuing to run our book groups virtually to provide our wonderful customers with some uplifting discussions.
Catherine Hetherington, owner of The New Book Shop & Coffee Shop, Cockermouth, Cumbria
The New Bookshop is an independent store on the edge of the Lake District.
All staff from the bookshop and coffee shop are currently on furlough and I’m doing what I can. So I am currently processing orders directly through the home delivery scheme and I am still calling into the shop every few days to parcel up books and cards to post out or deliver locally.
Most orders are coming via email or the diverted phone (the shop is also active on social media). It’s actually been really lovely to speak to my customers who are so happy to get some books and are just as anxious as ourselves. This also keeps a trickle of income, too.
I’ve also plenty of time for exercise and I have taken up running again, so I alternate with walks and bike rides. My garden is getting tidy again and, of course, I’m doing lots of reading.
Spokesperson for The Little Bookshop, Leeds, Yorkshire
Set in the heart of Chapel Allerton, The Little Bookshop is Leeds’ only independent children’s bookshop.
Our shop is now closed but we’re able to offer a limited home delivery service via our wholesaler direct to the customer’s door. We’re happy that our wholesalers are taking serious measures to protect their staff, too. There are some restrictions as they will only be able post one book at a time (you could order multiple books but they’d be packaged and posted separately) and then we’re having to charge customers £1.40 to contribute to P&P. But we’ll be absorbing the rest of the cost.
It’s great to be able to still run a skeleton service. It keeps the conversation going with our regular customers and means we can also serve customers further afield who follow and support us on social media. It’s lovely to chat with customers over email about their latest reads and be able to advise them on what they or their children might enjoy next.
People are also really trying to reach out to family and friends that they’re unable to see and missing – and what better way than with a book.
Jenna Warren, owner of Book Corner, Saltburn-by-the-Sea, Teeside
Book Corner Shop is Saltburn’s independent bookshop. It sells new books, specialising in contemporary fiction and children’s books. It also stocks non-fiction, including local history, nature writing, memoir, and poetry.
The bookshop is offering home delivery via its wholesaler to anywhere in the country and can drop off items it has in stock within Saltburn. Orders can be placed by contacting email@example.com. Owner Jenna also runs the Book Corner Book Group which meets on Facebook every Thursday at 7pm to share recommendations and discuss books.
Spokesperson for News from Nowhere, Liverpool, Merseyside
News from Nowhere is Liverpool’s radical and community bookshop.
Since the lockdown we have continued, with a skeleton staff, to supply books by mail order anywhere in the country or indeed the world. We have a vast stock of wonderful, eclectic, passionate and challenging books on all subjects, fiction, non-fiction and children’s, but all with an element of promoting social justice and personal resilience.
We’re posting photos on social media (Facebook, Twitter and Instagram) of individual books or pictures of whole shelves for book lovers to choose from. From recent or classic feminist texts to books on rewilding and the natural world, refugee experiences to uplifting poetry, labour history to vegan cookery, and from home education to the politics of every country under the sun, there’s 46 years of lovingly-curated stock on those shelves. And we can also order books, albeit with some understandable delays.
Another popular service has been our Lucky Dip (Booky Dip, anyone?). Just email us with an amount e.g. £10/£20/£50, and a subject if you’d like, and we’ll send you a payment link and a surprise selection of books and cards will be winging its way to you. You can also order a gift voucher for a friend or to spend yourself in the future. Just email firstname.lastname@example.org or ring 0151 708 7270 (11am -3pm) and we’ll do our best to help.
Ian Lowey, co-owner of Bopcap Books, Levenshulme, Greater Manchester
Bopcap Books offers, for sale, a carefully curated collection of previously owned books, posters and magazines.
Like many small retail businesses, the lockdown has hit us hard as we only opened in Levenshulme Antiques Village in October 2019. Between opening and the lockdown, we’d worked hard to build up a loyal and dedicated local clientele who proved particularly supportive in the immediate run-up to the COVID-19 crisis by coming into the shop and stocking up on books.
Since then, we have had to switch our attention to online sales via Abe, Amazon and particularly our own dedicated website as well as other online initiatives which has proved quite fruitful and is helping to sustain us during this period. Through our website we are offering free local delivery via bicycle in the South Manchester area and, again, the local community has proved supportive in that endeavour.
Also, immediately prior to the lockdown we offered free books and DVDs to be picked up on behalf of older members of the community on extended self-isolation which is something we would continue to do if circumstances allowed. In the meantime, we have been helped by the Antiques Village via a rent holiday for this first month of the lockdown (and possibly beyond) which all helps to keep us going until such a time as we can re-open our shop.
Gill Edwards, owner of The Little Ripon Bookshop, Ripon, North Yorkshire
The Little Ripon Bookshop is an independent bookstore in Ripon, North Yorkshire.
We’re enjoying the challenge of finding new ways to do business. We have been dealing with orders over the phone, via email, Facebook, and Twitter. Each day we are delivering books around Ripon but are also sending books further afield in the post. In order to keep the social aspect of the shop going, we’ve temporarily moved our book club to Zoom.
Just before we closed, we had received lots of entries for our annual World Book Day competition. We had asked children to turn loo rolls into book characters and have been sharing our #loorollgallery in the window and on social media daily. We are trying to have some fun and keep the business ticking over at the same time.
Keith Cowans, manager of The Book Vault, Barnsley, South Yorkshire
A new independent bookstore for Barnsley run by a mother and son team. Ivy Doherty had always wanted to bring a bookshop to Barnsley and her son, Keith Cowans, came on board to plan and manage the store.
The Book Vault opened in December 2019 and we have been adapting in ‘interesting times’. We decided to stop waiting for Barnsley to have a wide-ranging independent book shop and opened one ourselves. We held our first book launch events with Dan Jarvis MP and Milly Johnson, established activities for pre-school children and had further events planned when things started to change.
Since March 24, we have continued to provide a mail order service. This has not always been easy as our main suppliers closed for a time but restarted a limited service with staff welfare in mind. While this trade cannot replace a physical store, there are those with the interest and desire to support independent stores by whatever means they can. We sell books, offer recommendations and select books for people and offer our own store vouchers to people for the time we can reopen.
It has been difficult at times and we are still establishing more of an online presence, finding different ways to be found. While other sources are available, it is encouraging that there are people keen to support independent stores. We continue to adapt, to keep our business sustainable and offer a service to the community.
Julie Ellam, owner of J. E. Books, Hull, East Yorkshire
J. E. Books is a friendly independent bookshop in Hull’s Old Town.
We sell new and second-hand books and literary gifts. The shop is closed during the lockdown period and we have also put a hold on orders and deliveries. Once restrictions have eased off, orders and deliveries will resume. Customers can contact the shop on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, email at email@example.com or text/phone 07875548472.
Unfortunately, not all independents are able to trade but do keep them in mind for when the lockdown is lifted and businesses are once again allowed to open their doors to the public.
By Emma Yates-Badley, Literary Editor
Main image courtesy of Cogito Books