There’s a marked similarity in the fortunes of independent book sellers and independent wine merchants, as Graham Holter reports
Given the job of designing the perfect high street, most of us would include a decent independent wine shop.
There’s perhaps an argument to be made that access to a quality wine merchant even has an effect on property values. But it’s a hard claim to quantify, at least in isolation, because where you find a specialist wine shop, you’re also likely to find a butcher’s, a good bakery, certainly some popular coffee shops, and possibly a reasonable deli.
It’s no secret that, when scouting for locations, wine merchants are attracted and reassured by other specialist food and drink retailers. It proves that the audience they are looking for is already there.
Maybe there’s a correlation with book shops, too. Indeed figures from the Booksellers Association, as our graph on the right demonstrates, suggest that the fortunes of independent book shops and independent wine merchants have been on a similar upward trajectory since 2016 – and their numbers are remarkably alike.
Both sectors have, in the past, been given the last rites by some commentators. Indie book shops were predicted to be wiped out by Amazon; indie wine shops were going to lose their market share to supermarkets and the big online players.
Changing consumer dynamics have certainly presented existential challenges for independents of all types. But it’s striking that wine stores and book shops have not merely survived: they have thrived.
Meryl Halls, managing director of the Booksellers Association, which represents chain and indie bookshops alike, says: “Book shops are crucially important – and valued – parts of our high street communities. Book shops bring social and cultural capital to every town, village, suburb or city centre they are part of, and punch way above their weight in terms of impact and engagement locally, and nationally.”
It’s interesting that both sectors saw sizeable increases during the pandemic. High streets experienced mini booms after Covid hit, but in many cases retailers misjudged what would happen once some sort of normality returned. Not every shop that opened is still trading today.
In the worlds of wine and books, this problem isn’t so obvious, though it’s possible that the scenario might have changed when the numbers are analysed again in a year’s time.
Meanwhile, the words of Meryl Halls apply as much to the independent wine trade as they do her own membership.
“What is particularly pleasing is to be able to welcome a new cohort of book sellers to the industry,” she says. “Those with fresh eyes, new perspectives, energy and a commitment to the cultural contribution of book selling to our society and our economy.
“This new energy is so important to the future viability and diversity of our sector.
“The number of book shops has grown gradually and slowly since 2016; during the pandemic we saw a frankly astonishing number of new entrants to book selling. Drawn by the cultural relevance of books, reading and bookshops, inspired by the activism on display amongst current book sellers, seeing bookselling as a valid and rewarding career choice – these are all reasons why people open book shops.”