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‘Shop local’ message a boost for book sellers

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IN DIFFERENT TIMES  David Brennan of Castle Book Shop, Castlebar at the launch of Paul Byrnes’ book in Castlebar during the Wild Atlantic Words festival in 2017. Book launches have been conspicuous by their absence in 2020 but Brennan is full of praise for the standard of books released by Mayo authors this year. Pic: John Moylette

Castlebar
Óisin McGovern

The ‘shop local’ sentiment for Christmas 2020 has been of huge benefit to small family-owned shops like Castle Book Shop in Castlebar.
According to David Brennan – who works in the family-owned business and also operates the Mayobooks.ie website – there is enormous positive sentiment towards local shops heading into a Christmas like no other.
“Whatever about reading more, people are definitely shopping local more,” David told The Mayo News.
“There’s definitely a very welcome and positive sentiment towards supporting not just us, but other local businesses.
“I think the government and the local media are doing a really good job in pushing that sentiment out there.
“It’s not that we’re way busier, but there’s a lot more of a positive sentiment towards local business. We’re coming into our busy time now and I’d be a lot more optimistic that we’d have a busy Christmas, based on that.”
Situated at the bottom of Castle Street in the heart of the county town, the shop has been in David’s family since 1994 when his mother Kathryn purchased the business from the late Maureen O’Loughlin.
As well as employing four full-time staff and a handful of part-timers in the shop, David has been operating the Mayobooks.ie website for several years before the pandemic.
Having an established online presence proved to be a huge asset for the business while they operated click-and-collect services during the spring and autumn lockdowns.
David says that traffic on the website has kept them ticking along throughout the year, citing the particular interest being shown in books by local authors.
“Seán Rice brought out his book We Are Mayo and we sold that online during the first lockdown and that book sold really really well,” he says, referring to the title penned by Mayo News columnist and Tom Brett.
“I think he got it into us a couple of days before the first lockdown and we were one of the only places that had it.
“A book like that can draw people to the site. When they’re there they might pick up another book, so the site was busy on the back of that book alone.
“There’s another book called The Lost Gaeltacht about the migration from Clonbur to Allenstown and that generated a good bit of interest.
“Now there’s so many good books out with the Christmas time there’s actually a bit of demand online and in the shop. The website has been a bit busier than it would’ve been this time last year.”

Adapting
Coming off the back of a good summer and the perennial back-to-school bounce, David reckons that the public and local businesses have become better able to adapt to whatever restrictions are in place.
“We were more dialled in and the customers were more dialled in,” he says, referring to the disruption caused by the most recent closure of ‘non-essential’ retail.
“I noticed in Castlebar that the click-and-collect setup wasn’t that disruptive at all because the customer and retailer had experience of it.
“Everyone is used to wearing masks now, we have the screens and an extra counter in the shop where people can come for queries. Things like that make it easier in general. Any sort of a lockdown is disruptive but from our own experience it wasn’t too bad to be honest.”
David adds that having an established online presence in Mayobooks.ie will go a long way to ensuring that Castle Books can do a good Christmas trade in a safe manner.
“Having Mayobooks.ie – and I’d like to think a relatively identifiable one by virtue of its name – it’s an opportunity for me to grow that website as well. Covid-19 has pushed all businesses in different ways.
“A friend of mine makes household utensils out wood and he used to give classes. Now he gives classes online, so instead of having a small pool of people in the locality he’s giving classes to people all over the world. The situation gives you the initiative and the incentive to try something new, it gives you no choice.
“I would be optimistic [for Christmas]. It is what it is, everyone is in this situation. We’re just happy to be up and running as normal.
“There’s a huge amount of books out on Mayo by Mayo authors this year that are of a really high standard. It’s not the same in all counties.
“Talking to my contemporaries in other counties they wouldn’t have the same amount of local publications. We’re punching above our weight locally in Mayo for books.”