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Harris & Harris Books in Clare shortlisted for Independent Bookshop of the Year award after flourishing during coronavirus pandemic




“When I had to close, I thought it was curtains. But the number of people who cared and wanted to see their bookshop stay open just warms your cockles.”

Like many bookshops around the UK, Harris & Harris Books in Clare was faced with a potential existential crisis when the coronavirus pandemic forced the country into lockdown last year.

However, after shifting to a collection and delivery model, as well as improving the shop’s online profile, owner Kate Harris enjoyed a surprisingly strong year for sales, with demand still high during the latest lockdown.

Kate Harris, owner of Harris & Harris bookshop in Clare. The shop has been Nominated for the Independent Bookshop of the Year award..Pic - Richard Marsham/www.rmg-photography.co.uk. (44566405)
Kate Harris, owner of Harris & Harris bookshop in Clare. The shop has been Nominated for the Independent Bookshop of the Year award..Pic - Richard Marsham/www.rmg-photography.co.uk. (44566405)

Kate’s efforts have now been recognised by the 2021 British Book Awards, after the store was short-listed for the Independent Bookshop of the Year in the East of England – the only business in Suffolk to be nominated.

“I feel honoured and humbled by the nomination,” she told the Free Press. “It’s just wonderful and it’s lovely to be recognised.

“I love what I do and I’m immensely proud. It’s so great for the town to be recognised as well and, when we’re able to walk around freely again, I hope it will help bring more people to our scrumptious little town.

Kate Harris, owner of Harris & Harris bookshop in Clare. The shop has been Nominated for the Independent Bookshop of the Year award..Pic - Richard Marsham/www.rmg-photography.co.uk. (44566351)
Kate Harris, owner of Harris & Harris bookshop in Clare. The shop has been Nominated for the Independent Bookshop of the Year award..Pic - Richard Marsham/www.rmg-photography.co.uk. (44566351)

“It has been very challenging. When we were closed, I really didn’t think there would be room for a bookshop on the high street, but I was wrong. The emails and messages were still coming in from people who wanted books.

“After checking with government guidance and the Booksellers’ Association, which has been amazing, we learned we could do takeaways at the door, and we keep posting out books all over the place.

“Being able to post out anywhere is fantastic and helps keep us going.”

Kate Harris, owner of Harris & Harris bookshop in Clare. The shop has been Nominated for the Independent Bookshop of the Year award..Pic - Richard Marsham/www.rmg-photography.co.uk. (44566385)
Kate Harris, owner of Harris & Harris bookshop in Clare. The shop has been Nominated for the Independent Bookshop of the Year award..Pic - Richard Marsham/www.rmg-photography.co.uk. (44566385)

Key to the bookshop’s success over the last year has been an expanded social media presence to help keep in contact with customers during the various lockdown.

Kate has also posted regular videos through Facebook and Instagram, showcasing new books as they become available at the store.

“That absolutely saved my bookshop bacon,” she added. “My social media numbers have quadrupled. People all over the world have been finding me.

“We’ve had amazing messages from people to say how much they loved my videos and how books have helped them during these times. They can disappear into another world, like Narnia, and it sees them through some dreadful times.

“People were clearly hungry to read. In the times we could open the shop between lockdowns, people were coming in and grabbing handfuls of books to tide them over through the next lockdown.

“I opened this bookshop during a recession about 10 years ago, so I was adamant I was not going to close down because of a pandemic.

“This bookshop is very small and in Suffolk’s smallest town. But I always say we’re small yet mighty.”

The regional winners of the 2021 British Book Awards will be announced on March 17.

To contact Harris & Harris Books, call 01787 277267, click here.

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