‘There is always something’ | How an Independent Rock Hill Bookstore Survived COVID-19

According to the American Booksellers Association, at worst, about one bookstore was closing every week in 2020.

ROCK HILL, SC — Some local bookstores are slowly recovering from the pandemic. According to Association of American Booksellersat worst, about one bookstore was closing every week in 2020.

Independent bookstores have adapted, but are still struggling, long before the pandemic hit. None of this stopped Alison Boulton from opening her own boutique in Rock Hill.

“The year we opened this business, in the 12 months leading up to it, four independent bookstores in Rock Hill closed,” said Boulton, owner. The Liberty Book Company.

Boulton’s shop offers new and used books, but what it 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.

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“There are so many people that just the feel of a book in their hand is something so important to the reading experience,” she said.

Since opening The Liberty Book Company in 2018, Boulton has taken on one challenge after another. More recently, the pandemic has put her in survival mode. She got away with it thanks to the perseverance she acquired over many years in the profession of bookseller by making and selling thousands of masks with her team.

“We were able to hang on by the skin of our teeth and make it work,” Boulton said.

In fact, his team did more than just make it work; the store turned a profit this year for the first time since it opened in 2018.

Data shows that bookstores across the country are slowly bouncing back. According to IBIS World, in 2020, the market size for books has fallen to $7 billion. This year, it stands at $9 billion, but remains below pre-pandemic levels.

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Boulton says things are looking up, but just like the plot of a good novel, the tables can turn quickly.

“There is always something. You’re never far away from things getting shaky or uncertain,” she said.

One thing is certain: to survive, booksellers need the support of customers, customers who appreciate the value of words on paper.

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