MEXICO CITY – Dozens of Mexican neighborhood bookstores may not survive despite being given the go-ahead to resume their activities, threatening to leave behind a cultural vacuum that would be difficult to fill.
Case in point is the only bookstore in the Pedregal de Santo Domingo neighborhood of the Mexico City municipality of Coyoacan. Known as Salgari, it reopened last weekend after a three-month lockdown, albeit still with uncertainty about what health protocols to follow and how to maintain a steady flow of income.
“Under (Mexico’s) ‘new normal,’ the main challenge for all independent bookstores in the country is how to sell enough books to survive. It’s been very tough for the whole network, for all of my colleagues, for us, to sustain ourselves over these months,” Diego Castillo, co-owner of Salgari, said in an interview with EFE.
That establishment is part of a nationwide network of independent booksellers (known as RELI) that are struggling to survive the economic crisis triggered by the coronavirus in Mexico, where there have been 256,000 confirmed cases thus far and 30,639 deaths attributed to COVID-19.
“We’re starting to emerge from this slump. We’re coming out of it, opening our doors. So we’re still not at full gallop. We’re encountering the new impediments and the new dynamics,” said Valentina Barrios, another of Salgari’s co-owners.
Around 70 percent of the members of RELI’s network have faced “serious or very serious” economic problems, said its president, Claudia Bautista, adding that 20 percent of those bookstores fear they will not be able to reopen following the end of the lockdown, which began on March 23.
She also said it remains to be seen just how big of an economic toll the lockdown took on ordinary Mexicans and their purchasing power.
“Now that some cities are gradually reopening, we’ll see the new economic situation facing many families,” Bautista said.
Because the economic rescue package for Mexican businesses has been less ambitious than in other parts of the world, these bookstores have resorted to raffles, private-sector loans, gift certificates and social media sales to generate funds, she said.
With book sales having plummeted by 80 percent amid the coronavirus crisis, it is likely that 50 percent of bookstores will not reopen after the pandemic, the Association of Mexican Booksellers (Almac) says.
One of these small businesses, known as El Tomo Suelto and located near Salgari in Coyoacan’s La Concepcion neighborhood, has already succumbed to the crisis.
That bookstore that specialized in Mexican history and offered books difficult to find elsewhere slashed the prices of all of its merchandise by 50 percent late last month ahead of its definitive shutdown.
The closure of these independent booksellers is also a loss for their neighborhoods, considering that they not only sell books but also host reading circles, presentations, lectures and artistic and social events and even serve as platforms for local authors.
“It’s important for readers to support the bookstores, especially the independent bookstores, the neighborhood bookstores, because we’re a business but, unlike the large monopolies, we have a noble social purpose,” Castillo said.