We Sell Books: Doors are closed but books are still being sold

We Sell Books: Doors are closed but books are still being sold
Joanna and Hilary Hamilton of Bridge Street Books, Wicklow

Joanna Hamilton runs Bridge Street Books in Wicklow Town with her mother Hilary. 

It sells new books and was voted Bookshop of the Year in 2014. 

At the moment, it is operating behind closed doors due to the Covid-19 crisis, writes Marjorie Brennan

How long have you been open?

My mother Hilary opened the business in November 1999.

How did you get into the business?

I was travelling when the business opened but when I came back, I was between jobs and my mother asked if I’d come in and give it a go. I said I’d give it six months and I never left — I just loved it so much and I’m still here, 16 years later.

How has business been?

Since we opened, people in Wicklow have really welcomed us and we feel we’ve become part of the community. 

At the moment, people are really coming together, and the community spirit in the town is fantastic, people are helping each other out and customers have been really supportive. 

Obviously things have changed a lot in the last couple of weeks but everyone’s adapted really well and everybody’s looking out for each other. 

It’s just lovely to see it, really. It’s brilliant.

Do you have an online business?

We do have an online business but it’s limited — the online shop is for local books but we can order in and post out. 

People get in touch by phone and email more — the online shop is difficult to maintain because we have access to so many different books.

When did you make the decision to close the doors of the shop due to Covid-19?

We were open the Friday and Saturday after the schools closed but on the Saturday we said ‘we need to shut up shop’. 

So we’re closed officially but still operating.

What has the demand been like since?

It has been really heartening to see people really want to support independent shops. 

Customers have been emailing that they love the shop and want to support us, asking do we have this, that or the other, can we deliver to them... it’s really lovely, the feeling that people are so loyal and want to support local shops at a time like this.

Have you seen a change in the type of material customers want recently?

Hilary Mantel has been really popular, those are books you need some time to get into, people are looking for big series. 

We’ve also been selling a lot of children’s activity books, especially maths activities.

What are the logistics of operating at the moment?

We’re monitoring the situation on a daily basis. 

We have firm guidelines in place — we have a barrier across the door, we serve only one person at a time and we ask everyone to stand back, we have markings on the pavement, on the window. 

As long as people respect each other and respect the social distancing guidelines, and the Government maintains their current stance, then we’ll continue to do what we’re doing. 

We’re delivering to people, we ring the doorbell and if the package doesn’t fit in the letterbox we leave it on the doorstep; we ring them to tell them we left it there. 

At no time is there contact with the customer but we also maintain the customer
service we value so highly.

There seems to be a lot of people taking refuge in books at the
moment...

Very much so and it’s also lovely to see such support from authors around Ireland. 

For example, the short story competition for children that John Boyne has organised, anything to get the creative juices flowing at the moment. 

Books are important for health, we have to keep ourselves healthy, physically and mentally at the moment and to look after each other. 

We’re prioritising those who are older, vulnerable or self-isolating among our customers, making sure they’re sorted, because they’re most at risk. 

We have a lot of older customers and we have texted them to tell them we’ll deliver books if they need them, to be sure to ring us, and to stay in touch. 

It’s also good for them to have some contact with people.

What are your book recommendations?

I would definitely recommend Actress by Anne Enright, it is her at her very best. 

In terms of a lighter, fast-paced thriller, I love Three Hours by Rosamund Lupton, it is very well-written. 

Hilary has recently read Kiley Reid’s Such A Fun Age and she thoroughly enjoyed it — it’s a real contemporary book, one to get stuck into, particularly at the moment.

In children’s books, the series of A Place Called Perfect books by Helena Duggan, who is based in Kilkenny, is excellent. 

There are three books in the series. They would suit a good reader of nine up to 13 or 14. 

There are multiple layers to the books and an older reader would get more out of it. It’s a really good series, very clever and quite poignant.

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