The family-run firm had to close its stores in Ely, Bath, St Andrews and Edinburgh in March, furloughing almost all of its 50 staff. Sales dropped significantly and its literary events and reading groups were all cancelled.
With face-to-face transactions previously making up around 95 per cent of sales, co-founder Robert Topping and his son Hugh adapted how they worked by selling books over the phone from their homes and improving the company’s website.
The business continued to work with authors from across the UK to curate reading lists and collections for visitors to its website, and delivered signed copies of the latest fiction and non-fiction books to its loyal base of subscribers every month. However, it was still left surviving on 20 per cent of pre-lockdown sales.
The £250,000 loan from long-term banking partner Lloyds, via the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme, meant it could continue to pay for stock while its shops were closed.
The recent easing of lockdown in England saw the company reopen its Ely and Bath stores on 15 June, and it plans to reopen its Scotland shops on 29 June. It said sales in Ely and Bath have already returned to normal.
Robert Topping said: “The relationship between a community and its independent bookshop is something unique, especially in times of uncertainty. We’ve seen so many political and societal changes in the first half of 2020, so it’s no surprise that we’ve seen an uplift in sales of non-fiction and current affairs books, especially on the topic of race due to the Black Lives Matter movement.
“We’ve also heard from customers that they’re particularly keen to support independent bookstores during these times – knowing the competition we face from major online retailers.“Lloyds Bank’s support has been vital in getting us through a difficult period to where we are now, on the brink of having all four stores back up and running and with sales getting there too.”
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