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Belfast independent bookstore to emerge from lockdown on Friday

Nine-foot high perspex screens are being installed between staff and customers at No Alibis on Botanic Avenue.

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David Torrens of the No Alibis Bookstore (Liam McBurney/PA)

David Torrens of the No Alibis Bookstore (Liam McBurney/PA)

David Torrens of the No Alibis Bookstore (Liam McBurney/PA)

One of Belfast’s best-known independent book stores will open its doors on Friday.

The normally “beautifully cluttered” No Alibis on Botanic Avenue is being renovated to create more socially-distanced open space after Stormont gave the go-ahead to small retailers.

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.

My heart would soar but part of me would also panicDavid Torrens

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 well-being 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 been Belfast Book Festival, with an increased footfall through the shop.

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

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Finishing touches

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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 if the furlough system had not been in operation, we would have had to lay staff off.

“We are very grateful for that.”

The 23-year-old premises is close to Queen’s University on a normally bustling street filled with cafes and restaurants.

I am not naive or stupid about things, it is not a case of thinking everything will go back to normal - everything will not go back to normalDavid Torrens

Trade has been down by about 70%, the remaining 30% maintained by services like direct deliveries.

The owner said: “I am hopeful that we will be okay.

“I am not naive or stupid about things, it is not a case of thinking everything will go back to normal – everything will not go back to normal.

“So much is dependant on events and book readings and external events like music.”

The shop previously collaborated with Heaney HomePlace, the visitor centre celebrating Queen’s-educated Nobel Laureate poet Seamus Heaney.

Mr Torrens acknowledged the impact of online during lock down when readers have been confined to their homes and prevented from meeting others.

“For a lot of people the accessibility of online book stores is what has probably saved them in many areas, whatever they are purchasing online.”

PA