During lockdown, bookstores were considered “essential services” – along with supermarkets and flower shops – and stayed open the entire time. But was it all smooth sailing? This week, we hear how our favourite shops handled the crisis. First up, Alte Schönhauser Straße’s cosy basement of books, Hundt Hammer Stein.
A small German-language bookshop with a sizable English collection ranging from translated German favourites to the latest prize-winning fiction, Hundt Hammer Stein is a survivor. For the last 16 years, this bibliophile basement has been defying the competition of digital giants (a sign tells visitors “you’ll be leaving the amazone”). In recent years, it’s grappled with the ruthless gentrification that’s been eating alive almost every other independent shops on Mitte fashionista’s Alte Schönhauser Straße. But could they defy the coronavirus crisis?
When 46-year-old German shop owner Kurt von Hammerstein realised that the city deemed bookstores as “essential businesses”, he first breathed a sigh of relief. Next. he installed a plexiglass shield at the counter and put up signs allowing no more than three people at a time into the space and asking them to wear masks.
“We’ve been doing okay,” von Hammerstein says. “We’re in a good location, thankfully.” Sales from their English language section fell to 10 percent of their usual amount, a drop von Hammerstein blames on the absence of tourists. Sourcing English books was also difficult, as German international wholesalers were unable to confirm whether certain titles would be able to arrive at all.
As they had fewer walk-in customers, von Hammerstein shortened opening hours from 11am to 5pm, closing two hours earlier than the usual 7pm. All three members of staff were kept on to help pack books for shipping and deliver them by bike to the surrounding Kiez. To let followers know the store was still open, von Hammerstein spread the message on Facebook and Instagram along with daily posts about the latest arrivals.
When von Hammerstein waived the delivery cost for orders over €10, some customers insisted on paying the extra shipping. He credits loyal regulars, who spread the word to order online and support independent shops like his, for a rush of new customers. “We saw a huge increase in children’s books and books for young adults,” von Hammerstein. “The public libraries closed and people were stuck inside with their kids – I like the idea they were trying to limit children’s time on their computers.” As for other books? “Camus’ The Plague‘s been a big hit.”