We Sell Books: Virus response writes a new chapter for Books Upstairs

We Sell Books: Virus response writes a new chapter for Books Upstairs

Louisa Earls is a manager at Books Upstairs, D’Olier St, Dublin, which is owned by her father, Maurice Earls.

How long have you been in business?

My father, Maurice, opened the business in 1978. It was originally in South King Street, before the Stephen’s Green Shopping Centre was there. It moved a couple of times; it was in College Green for the longest stint. Then, in 2015, we opened in D’Olier Street. That was the biggest change.

We suddenly had enough space to be able to hold book launches and other literary events. We have a space above the bookshop, which has a nice bay window, which is where we have a café.

How has business been?

It has been a really busy five years. We have developed a lot of things we weren’t doing before, like the café, the events. We also try to be creative with the kind of books we sell.

We have been really encouraged with the response; it has been going from strength to strength. It is a lot of hard work: it can be tough for independent bookshops, even in a climate where people are reading a lot.

You are competing with audiobooks and Kindles, but we have been very encouraged by the sustained interest people have in buying physical books. That has been amazing.

How did you get into the business?

I worked part-time in the shop when I was in school and college, but I lived in England for a number of years.

I worked for the Routledge academic publishing company for five years: I was commissioning books for them on the environment, and sustainability.

At a certain point, me and my Dad had talked about how amazing it would be if we found an affordable location, where we could rent more space and have a café and do events. It was pie in the sky, but then we found this space and it ticked a lot of the boxes and we started discussing the possibility of working together. We have a good thing going on.

How has the coronavirus crisis affected the business?

It all happened very quickly. We decided to close the café on Sunday night; then we decided to close the shop at 11am on Monday. We did it for our own safety and the safety of the public; we also wanted to be part of flattening the curve. It just didn’t feel right to stay open.

We did have a busy few days before the schools shut down. We are closed to the public and, at the moment, it is just myself, my Dad, and the other manager, MaryMcAuley, coming into the shop.

What are the logistics of running the business without the shop open?

We don’t have a website; it is under development at the moment.

We are getting around that. We do have a website of sorts, a landing page where we are promoting self-isolation book bundles, and we are using PayPal and Mailchimp to facilitate online ordering.

We are posting books all over the world.

So far, we have been run off our feet; we have been really touched by the amount of people getting in contact. We need to maintain that: no-one knows how long this situation will last.

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Do you plan to keep operating?

We are taking orders; the supply chains are still functioning; we are still getting deliveries every day; we are still coming in every day.

We are not looking too far ahead: it’s day by day. Anyone who wants books from us, we are doing everything we can to get it to them.

It is lovely, as well, to have the aspect of people getting in touch and saying they want some poetry, or crime fiction, or memoir. They are leaving it up to us and it is kind of recreating the experience of when customers ask us for recommendations in the shop.

It feels like normality, but via email. We are also taking calls and getting direct messages on social media. Any way that someone tries to get us, there is somebody on the other end.

You have quite an active social media presence. Is that good for business?

Certainly. People of all ages are using it more and, as we don’t have a full website up and running, social media has been absolutely invaluable to us.

It is amazing how much energy is out there, at the moment, directed towards trying to support local businesses.

I have been taken aback by that and I’m glad that we seem to be part of it. It is also a perfect time to be reading and not getting anxious looking at your phone. Social media is great, but you do have to limit it, because the content overload is really overwhelming.

What are your book recommendations?

Modern Times, a collection of short stories by Cathy Sweeney, was just published by Stinging Fly. She was due to have her launch in the shop.

We have all read the book and I can wholeheartedly recommend it; it is also really funny.

Also, HilaryFannin’s The Weight of Love, which was just published, is a beautiful novel: she is a great writer. Eimear McBride’s latest, Strange Hotel, is another one I particularly liked.

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