AT FIRST, THEY are tentative. Hovering about the door of the bookshop in the Suffolk town of Aldeburgh, they wait to be invited in. “Can I look at t
AT FIRST, THEY are tentative. Hovering about the door of the bookshop in the Suffolk town of Aldeburgh, they wait to be invited in. “Can I look at the cards?” a woman whispers, as if enquiring about contraband. A man spends several minutes forensically scrubbing his hands with sanitiser gel before wrestling on a pair of latex gloves. “I’m going to have to buy something now,” he quips. But once inside, the customers pootle absent-mindedly with no regard for the marked-out route, hunting for that paperback they heard about on the radio, something for the grandkids or just a bloody good yarn. Mary James, who owns the shop with her husband John, smiles indulgently. “People are finding the one-way system quite challenging,” she concedes.
England’s high streets, which were closed for nearly three months, are slowly returning to life. Bookshops and other stores deemed “non-essential” were permitted to reopen on June 15th. Almost all branches of Waterstones, a big chain, did so. Roughly half of England’s several hundred independent booksellers—including the Aldeburgh Bookshop—opened straight away. A steady flow of customers are returning. “It’s not like Primark,” Mrs James tells a customer over the phone, alluding to pictures of snaking queues outside a clothing retailer. “But there are people.”
That is welcome after a nervy start to the year for bookshops,…