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Coronavirus: Belfast bookshop No Alibis turns over new leaf as it gets ready to reopen safely for loyal customers

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David Torrens of the No Alibis bookstore on Botanic Avenue in Belfast

David Torrens of the No Alibis bookstore on Botanic Avenue in Belfast

PA

David at work

David at work

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Joanne Neale in china and gift department at Wardens in Newtownards

Joanne Neale in china and gift department at Wardens in Newtownards

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General manager Keith Irvine serves a customer

General manager Keith Irvine serves a customer

PA

David Torrens of the No Alibis bookstore on Botanic Avenue in Belfast

One of Belfast's best-known independent bookstores is taking on a new look as it prepares to reopen its doors.

The normally "beautifully cluttered" No Alibis on Botanic Avenue is being renovated to create more socially distanced open space.

It comes after Stormont gave the go-ahead for small retailers to open their doors from Friday.

Nine-foot-high Perspex screens are being installed between staff and customers at a shop normally associated with leisurely conversation during book signings, music and poetry readings.

David Torrens runs it, and does not know how many to expect on Friday. He said: "There could be 30 people outside the shop. My heart would soar but part of me would also panic."

He added that his customers often wanted to talk about books and conduct conversations.

He said: "You want people to feel comfortable and not worried.

"It is going to be about creating a sense of mental wellbeing and confidence."

The store specialises in reading material on crime and usually only had a handful of customers inside at any time except for Christmas, but tended to fill with up to 50 people for events like poetry readings.

There will be no such gatherings for the foreseeable future.

This week should have seen the Belfast Book Festival, with an increased footfall through the shop.

Instead, staff were furloughed as the economy shut down in March to curb the spread of coronavirus.

Mr Torrens added: "That has been the only thing that has meant that the staff have been protected and have been looked after. "It has taken a financial burden off the business. We could not have afforded to cover it if the furlough system had not been in operation, we would have had to lay staff off. We are very grateful for that."

Meanwhile, the manager of Wardens department store in Newtownards welcomed a return to "some form of normality".

Keith Irvine said it felt good to reopen yesterday, but emphasised it was too early to count the cost of the damage.

Wardens is one of many larger stores with street entrances that were permitted to reopen.

Customers were waiting at the front and back doors for the reopening, and were instructed to use disinfectant hand gel and a one-way system as they entered.

"We've had a very, very busy three weeks and today is the first day we have opened up the entire shop - furniture, beds, cookware, homeware and china department," Mr Irvine explained.

"Its very good to get back to some form of normality and doing what we enjoy doing."

Belfast Telegraph