Saturday 3 October 2020 is Bookshop Day across the nation. To celebrate, we have teamed up with some amazing independent bookshops which we want to highlight. One of our bookshop partners is Mostly Books, Abingdon. We interviewed owner Sarah Dennis about the team’s experiences during lockdown and reopening.
As a bookseller, I imagine that a highlight of your job is interacting with customers face to face, how challenging was it to find yourself unable to do so?
It was really hard! We missed our customers a huge amount and would phone regular customers periodically just to check in with them. It was lovely to have them back in the shop when we re-opened.
In what ways did you adapt to the lockdown? Did you have to come up with new ways of reaching your customers and did these changes continue on reopening?
Until lockdown, Mostly Books had prided itself on being a bricks and mortar business. Customer service was (and continues to be) our mantra and I had made a conscious decision not to put our stock on our website because there was no way that we could price match online giants like Amazon and Waterstones. However, with the shop closed for the foreseeable future, it became clear that we needed something on our website to sell books. During that week, I managed to get all our stock online and, suddenly, we were able to point customers in the direction of our website for browsing and buying.
We increased our delivery service and my colleague, Lyndsey took it upon herself to voluntarily come to the shop each day to pick up any deliveries and cycled miles to get books to our customers.
What measures did you put in place at Mostly Books on reopening? Has the shop layout had to change at all?
On 16th June, our doors opened for click and collect with restricted browsing for reduced hours. We had an L-shaped desk near the front door to serve customers from and set up a browsing station where customers could request to see books in stock.
In addition, we offered private browsing appointments once the shop had closed each day and, on Saturday 27th June, to celebrate Independent Bookshop Week, we did this for the full day – It was a huge success and we received loads of support from our customers.
The shop re-opened for browsing on 29th June but we kept a desk by the front door that enabled us to meet and greet customers as they arrived into the shop. Just last week, we took this desk away and have, instead, replaced it with a small table to the side of the front door which is where we are dealing with customer orders and general enquiries.
Did you receive a lot of support from the local community? What was the response like when you reopened, was it what you expected?
The response from the public has been amazing. People are making an active effort to support us as a local business and footfall is good. We are still offering deliveries, albeit on a reduced basis, but have found that most people are keen to come into the shop.
Have you been in touch with any other bookshops during this period? If so, what comfort do you get from talking with fellow booksellers?
Being in touch with other booksellers has made this whole time so much easier to cope with! I am good friends with Mog and Pauline at Warwick Books, Ali at The Wallingford Bookshop and Jo at Red Lion Books in Colchester. I was in touch with them all regularly, comparing notes and generally keep each other sane! We also received unbelievable support from the Booksellers Association. In addition to fighting through endless amounts of policies on our behalf, they organised amazing things like bookseller virtual coffee mornings each week where we all took an hour out of the craziness to grab a cuppa and just catch up.
Were there any surprising positive aspects to the lockdown?
The three of us that worked throughout the whole of lockdown (Lyndsey, Imogen & I) got to know each other better than we ever thought possible and we have formed a really strong bond. Imogen and Lyndsey have become genuinely good friends, in addition to being colleagues.
The change in circumstances also gave me the chance to really enjoy spending time in the shop. Whilst is was busy throughout lockdown, I was spending more time in the shop itself than I had for quite a while. It was lovely being able to focus solely on getting books to our customers without a lot of the usual distractions.
Did you find that reading tastes changed during the lockdown? Has there been a further change since lockdown restrictions were eased?
We found that, generally, our customers fell into one of two camps. A lot of people were looking for real escapism, light reads that didn’t require too much thought and that they could just dip in and out of. However, a lot of other customers were keen to get into something either quite dark or heavy going. We sold a lot of copies of The Mirror and The Light just before lockdown and that it continued to sell throughout. People were finding that they had the appetite to tackle something that they might not have found time to under normal circumstances.
You do a lot of events and signings with authors, how has the lockdown affected these?
We did a couple of online events but they were extremely stressful and we found that the quality of the output wasn’t as high as we wanted them to be. As a result, we decided to create a podcast series instead which enables us to produce content at a time that works well for our guests and we are able to edit to create really high quality output.
You run your own podcast series, how did this come about and do you have any guests lined-up that you are particularly excited for?
We wanted to do something different that would give people access to great content and decided that this was the way to do it. We’ve been amazed by the reaction to the released episodes, the latest being with journalist, author and podcaster, Elizabeth Day, which is definitely worth a listen. We’re really excited about upcoming episodes Robert Harris and Chris Riddell.
If you are visiting Oxfordshire we firmly recommend a trip to Abingdon and Mostly Books.
Mostly Books, 36 Stert Street, Abingdon, Oxon, OX14 3JP
Tel: 01235 525880
You can find out more about Mostly Books on their website: https://mostly-books.co.uk
Read about our other bookshop partner Pen’rallt Gallery Bookshop, here.