From lockdowns to shortages, booksellers were never projected to succeed during a pandemic. Presumably, readers would turn to online media and mass distributors to receive their literature fix. However, statistics have shown that bookstores have thrived since the beginning of the pandemic in 2020, In the UK, independent booksellers have just hit an almost decade-long high in sales.
The Guardian in the UK recently interviewed independent booksellers on the surprising turn the pandemic had in their favor. The Reading Tree, run by Michelle Jay, began as an online-only bookstore when the pandemic started. But when Jay opened a physical store in 2021, the town couldn’t get enough. “The response from the local community has been absolutely incredible, they have really embraced us,” Jay states. She emphasizes that the bookstore is not in a major city, so the town relies on its own community to keep businesses open. Morning storytimes and after-school happy hours are just a couple of the reasons why The Reading Tree has become so popular since it first opened its doors.
There is something comforting, as well, with browsing a physical bookstore. While many people have turned to books during lockdown periods, readers have always loved the ability to browse while they shop. Ordering online can force shoppers into a corner of knowing what they need, even if they don’t necessarily know what they’re looking for. Besides this, independent booksellers allow for a more niche audience. Places like the UK’s Waterstones and the US’s Barnes & Noble can feel overwhelming for individuals trying to avoid crowds.
At least in the US, Penguin Random House pledged to aid indie booksellers during the recent shortage of books due to shipping delays. Meryl Halls, managing director of the Booksellers Association, says that UK booksellers “will continue to lobby the government to support booksellers and provide proper assistance and guidance” so that these smaller shops stay open. It won’t be easy, but we imagine readers will continue to support independent bookstores for a long time.
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