Anne Brichto and Derek Addyman opened Addyman Books in 1986, Murder and Mayhem in 1997, and in 2003 the Addyman Annex. All three stores are within walking distance of each other in the book town of Hay-on-Wye. The stores specialize in collectable and antiquarian detective fiction, science fiction, classic paperbacks, modern First editions, children’s books, as well as fiction and poetry. In addition to the three shops, Addyman Books sells regularly online, and Anne has maintained a popular #Bookstagram blog for several years. Anne lives upstairs in the original Addyman Books building. She spoke to me in May about the impact of the pandemic on their bookstores.
Anne describes Covid’s financial impact on Addyman Books as substantial but not overwhelming. Their onsite sales were limited to a few months over the summer, and they had to lose two staff members. However, Anne describes the business support provided by the Welsh Government as an important factor in their survival during the past year:
“They were very supportive of small businesses. When the Health and Safety people came around, we felt they wanted to help, not just enforce safety codes.”
As the business is a partnership between Brichto and Addyman, as well as the fact they have three distinct stores, they were able to get sufficient financial benefit from the Welsh Government’s policies.
The store also benefited from their online sales, and what Anne describes as their “best summer ever” during the period between lockdowns. Anne describes Hay as benefiting from a beautiful rural location and a reputation as one of Britain’s premier Book Towns, dating back to Richard Booth’s original shop in 1962 and his declaration of independence for the Kingdom of Hay in 1977 — a publicity stunt that put the town firmly on the map. She suggests that readers who might normally travel to Rome, Paris, Prague or another romantic and cultural international location were drawn to Hay by its geography and cultural reputation. She also credits a desire on the part of the community to support local businesses, which included customers in Cardiff wanting to source books from Wales.
The books people were buying also changed dramatically during the past year of lockdowns: “Our back-copies of The Plague went fast at the beginning” said Anne. After that, the fiction that sold best was by established authors. Agatha Christie was a major draw for customers. “We could almost have survived just on that”. She thinks customers were looking for comfort reading and looking for classic authors they knew, like Christie, Fleming, and Greene.
Anne’s experience maintaining her #Bookstagram blog on Instagram provided her with another tool for maintaining sales during the past year. “Pictures more than lists” is her mantra. When customers contact her looking for titles, rather than sending a textual description or list of books, she now takes a photograph of the books and sends that by WhatsApp or other media. She also depends on visuals when buying books, asking potential book sources to send her images: “When I hear ‘Charles Dickens, Great Expectations, pretty good condition’, it could be anything.” Asking for a photograph is quick, easy, and tells a broader story about the book.
The Covid experience has had long term and positive impact on the store. Working half-days and not having customers to attend to has allowed “more thinking time” and time to re-arrange the store. Covid provided her with the opportunity to re-arrange her living space above the store, making it more comfortable both for herself and her customers. She feels she has been able to appreciate the staff in the store more with less daily pressures. “We gave each other the time”, she says, and time is a constant theme when she describes the past year. Time for her own life; time for her staff; time for strategic thinking and making longer-term changes.
She is also becoming more ruthless in her inventory. “Every book can sell, but…” she says, then explains that they started selling books that had been on the shelf for 5-10 years for £1 to cull the stock. Noting that books sold significantly faster downstairs, the lockdown provided the opportunity to move books from the upper floors to the ground floor. She quotes the retail wisdom “at eye they buy” and explains that they now think carefully about what books should be displayed at eye level—regardless of alphabetic order. She mentions, only slightly embarrassed by the pun, the creation of “Austen Towers”—her tower of Jane Austen books.
The Covid lockdowns provided a space for reflecting on the store layouts, the inventory, her work-life balance, and the future. Going forward, Anne believes she can now be more strategic in her thinking about the business: “Buy careful and make every book count”. She also intends to continue her newly discovered work-life balance; closing two of the three books on Sundays will be a step in that direction. It will not be easy, though. A recent #Bookstagram post describes how things are returning to the new normal: “This bank holiday Sunday we have only two people to run three shops which means a fair bit of running back and forth between Murder and Mayhem and Addyman’s. I also have to make snap decisions about the honesty of book buyers before letting them into a shop unsupervised. So far they’ve all passed.”