On April 14, early signs of hope of a new normality emerged as Florence’s bookshops began reopening their doors. The move comes as the Italian government decided to slacken ever so slightly the five-week-long lockdown by allowing certain businesses to operate again. The timber industry, children’s clothing and stationery stores are the retail companies legally permitted to return to work. Bookstores are the other permitted category, placing emphasis on the craving for culture, while potentially causing further economic strain to this already fragile segment.
Perhaps this will provide a turning point for these cabinets of curiosities as people embrace the cultural reopening in the same way as individuals have reacquired a thirst for magazines and newspapers in recent weeks—newsstands have remained a constant throughout lockdown as the “purchase of newspapers and magazines are deemed a ‘need’, hence also movements to and from newsstands which sell them”. (Source: www.governo.it)
Reopening retail businesses after an extended period of closure is by no means straightforward, however, and president of the Tuscan regional government, Enrico Rossi, has added further conditions to ensure public health throughout the region.
“Bookstores, stationery shops and clothing stores for children and infants can reopen in Tuscany, but only after professional cleaning of the premises and aeration systems in addition to guaranteeing personal protective equipment, hand sanitizer gel, single-use disposable gloves to employees and customers, and a 1.8-metre interpersonal distance rule between persons.”
Florence’s international bookshops haven’t exactly shut up shop in the last month or so. The Paperback Exchange (via delle Oche 4R / email@example.com) has “reinvented” reading with specific orders and cute mystery boxes delivered for free to readers’ doors in Florence or shipped all over Italy and Europe. Enthusiastic owners Icaro Rotunda and Gianluca Romeo aren’t rushing into lifting the antique iron shutters on their established store in the shadow of the Duomo.
A Facebook message on April 14 reads, “Almost there. Soon we’ll reopen our bookshop to everybody and we can’t wait to see people coming in again, browsing around, asking for books. But we are not there yet. We are working, as we have worked so far in the last month, and we’ll keep delivering books, making mystery boxes and shipping orders! And soon, very soon, we’ll be there, ready to announce Paperback Exchange reopening.”
Folks have been tapping on the window of Todo Modo (via dei Fossi 15R / firstname.lastname@example.org) to order the books of their choice in the last few weeks. Maddalena Fossombroni and Pietro Torrigiani are not changing stance, despite the modified legislation.
“We’re told that bookstores can reopen as from Tuesday [ed. April 14]. Good. No, it’s bad. It’s still not the right time to go to the bookstore, to spend time wandering around the shelves, picking up one book after another and another, talking with the next to the bookseller, who shows us a certain book, sitting down and reading the back cover. No, sadly, we’re still not at that stage and our bookstore mostly consists of moments like these.”
Fossombroni and Torrigiani are continuing their free home deliveries of books in the Florence area as well as adding a counter where readers can order, buy and collect titles directly. They’ve also been keeping their regular customers company with a Wednesday book club on Instagram (in Italian) and Facebook, when the owners talk about a new title and a classic read.
On the other side of the city, in the Le Murate complex, Nardini Bookstore (via delle Vecchie Carceri / email@example.com) is doing a partial reopening this week to test the waters. On April 15 and 17, between 3:30 and 5 pm, readers will be welcomed back to the bookshelves with a challenge. Come up with a creative take on the self-certification and the best entry will win a book of your choice.
“You can even have bought a book somewhere else. As long as you show the receipt, you can take part in the self-certification challenge regardless… The first bookshops to reopen all deserve support. We’re looking for the most entertaining or serious, perfect or enigmatic entry!”
On a serious note, readers are reminded to wear face protection and gloves if you have some; don’t worry if you don’t, Nardini will provide them.
Florence’s historic French bookshop, Librairie Française, also restored its services on April 14. A Facebook post reads: “We know some of our colleagues have decided to extend the closure. For us, lifting up our shutters means always being able to answer the phone, deal with orders more efficiently, follow the situation in France better, and look after our premises. Those who want to can stop by quickly for supplies: it will be no more hazardous than a supermarket run. If you don’t feel ready, there’s no rush.” The Librairie Française (piazza Ognissanti 1R) continues with book shipments in Florence and beyond.
Bookstore chain Libraccio (via de’ Cerretani 16R / firstname.lastname@example.org) is back in business from 9am to 6pm, ordering titles for home delivery and hosting digital cultural events on its social media channels. Regular in-store announcements remind customers to wear face masks, use the hand sanitizer gel and gloves provided, to maintain the required interpersonal distancing, and to reduce the time spent in the bookshop.
“We must have given away hundreds of pairs of gloves. We’re receiving lots of phone calls to find out our opening hours and people are thanking us. They’re happy to be back buying books in our store,” explained store manager Giangi Marrali, in a video on Repubblica.it, with the bells of the Duomo sounding in the background. “We’re proud to have reopened after a month of being closed.”
Updated April 21, 11am: The Paperback Exchange reopened its doors on Tuesday, April 21 from 10am to 3pm. It will be open on the following dates: Friday, April 24, 10am to 3pm; Tuesday, April 28, 10am to 3pm; and Friday, May 1, 10am to 3pm.