ROCK HILL, S.C. — Some local bookstores are slowly rebounding from the pandemic. According to the American Booksellers Association, at its worst, about one bookstore was closing each week in 2020.
Independent bookstores have been adapting, but still struggling, long before the pandemic arrived. None of it stopped Alison Boulton from opening her own shop in Rock Hill.
“The year that we opened this business, in the 12 months preceding it, four independent book stores in Rock Hill closed," said Boulton, who owns The Liberty Book Company.
Boulton’s shop has new and used books, but what she really sells is the experience you can’t get online: the earthy smell of paper, rows of titles to choose from, and the joy of discovery.
“There are so many people that just the feeling of a book in their hand is something that is so important to the reading experience," she said.
Since she opened The Liberty Book Company in 2018, Boulton has faced one challenge after another. Most recently, the pandemic put her in survival mode. She got through it thanks to the perseverance she learned from many years in the book-selling business by making and selling thousands of masks with her team.
“We were just able to hang on by the skin of our teeth and make it work," Boulton said.
In fact, her team more than just made it work; the store turned a profit this year for the first time since it opened in 2018.
Data shows bookstores across the country are slowly rebounding. According to IBIS World, in 2020, the market size for books dropped to $7 billion. This year it’s up to $9 billion, but still below pre-pandemic levels.
Boulton says things are looking up, but just like the plot in a good novel, the tables can turn quickly.
“There’s always something. You’re never too far away from things becoming fragile or uncertain," she said.
One thing is certain: bookstores need support from customers to survive, customers who appreciate the value of words on paper.
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