Coffee & Books to Go – Academy Books Southgate
We closed our doors on what would have been our 11th month birthday at Academy Books Southgate. We didn’t even mange to make our 1st birthday when Covid 19 hit. It had already been a rollercoaster ride of a first year. We packed away our book shelves and our lovely coffee so that nothing would get dusty not knowing when we could open or if we could open again. I can’t describe the upset and tears and worry without getting emotional all over again. We had rent, rates and revenue to pay. We had to email suppliers to let them know everything would be on hold until we reopened not knowing when or if that would be.
The dream since I was eight of having a bookshop was all too fast becoming a nightmare. Last March my friends, parents and family lending a hand to put shelves together, cleaning and painting to keep the costs down as much as we could to get the shop fitted out and stocked. Roll forward to March 2020 and now our lovely bookstore was now sitting dark and lonely.
After days sitting at home feeling totally lost and trying to work out would we even open again we decided to use social media to try and sell some of the stock that we had even if it was just five books a day. That was the target five books a day. All the Irish warehouses were closed so it was literally what was in stock and nothing more. I took photos, wrote reviews and posted on Facebook and Instagram.
Once travel up to 2km was allowed I was more than happy to deliver books to people who were cocooning and this kept me sane. Even if it was just two deliveries a day it gave me hope that we could open in the future. It was lovely to see how happy people where when their books we left at their doors. It’s something that we will keep going as we move forward as it’s a service that is sorely needed. My navigation skills have also improved greatly.
What has surprised me is that so many people have gone back to reading. Reading whatever was sitting on shelves or they could borrow from friends and neighbours. Children getting around to reading ‘Harry Potter’ or books that ‘weren’t school books or school novels’. Every day felt like a little step forward. Some days were steps backwards. One day we sold ten books and I went home happy as a lark. How mad is that? I went to bed thinking this might work. The next day our rates bill came out of our account as we forgot to tell them we were closed and it nearly cleaned out our bank account. How do you order books when your cashflow is gone to nothing overnight?
We had to order from the UK and eat into the little savings we had left as we had put all of our savings into buying stock to get the shop open in the first place. The requests for children’s books were starting to come in. David Williams new book Slime was released in the middle of all of it so we ordered 20 copies from the UK knowing we might make one Euro profit on each copy but it was worth it to feel like we were doing something. Tom Gates, Wimpy Kid, Dog Man, Dork Diaries were suddenly gold with children looking for what the books that were missing from their collections. Again we had to order from the UK and pay in advance and wait and hope they would arrive in.
Talking to other independent bookshop owners who have had to either make decisions to close or to try and go online with no knowledge or experience was helpful and we passed suggestions and ideas back and forward. Most of them I didn’t know but reaching out and asking them for books if they had them in stock helped a lot knowing we were all in the same boat but maybe there was hope. Some unfortunately probably won’t open again. Which is heart breaking.
We started an order and collect or delivery or postage service which was amazing as An Post launched their 2.95 Euro for up to 10kg for book shops otherwise we would never have managed. The first day we posted two book packages and that was an achievement. It varied between one and three each day but it’s a start. Waiting for orders and couriers as they are under such pressure is becoming the new normal but it’s so appreciated when they finally arrive. Every part of the supply chain is under pressure.
What has been lovely is the support from local writers and many have gotten in touch and social distanced interviews arranged. Our book club as gone virtual and our children’s book club have started submitting reviews for social media and our website. The kindness of people has been heartwarming.
Having somewhere to go each morning even if we couldn’t open and there was only myself in the shop helped get a sense for whether we could get through this. It will depend on the goodwill of the local community to buy local and help all local shops get back on their feet. We are hoping to have all our five team members back before the end of the summer if we can. It’s not going to be easy and sometimes online ordering may be cheaper in some cases but to us every order means the world and we would like to thank our wonderful loyal customers and our new ones that have discovered our existence.
We hope our new Coffee & Books to Go starting next Monday will be popular and we can get back to normal. Whatever the ‘new normal’ will be.
Academy Books Southgate