LONDON : As stores reopen, customers and master readers chase away the blues by stocking up. So, just after 10 a.m, Cathy Slater, the owner of Dulwich Books, stood waiting to welcome her first customers into the store in months.

Bookstores in English were allowed to open their premises some weeks ago for the first time since the country went into lockdown in March.

Slater said she was overjoyed to be back and had prepared especially : There was a vase of flowers on a table by the entrance, and a huge bottle of hand-sanitizer on the counter.

The first customer wasn't what she had hoped for. About 20 minutes after opening, a man stuck his head around the front door, and shouted, ''Do-you sell Post-it-Notes?''

But at 10.30 am, another customer Helen Boome, arrived and headed straight to the children's section. ''Is it OK to touch?'' she asked. After getting the all-clear, she gathered a book about Greek myths for her son.

Within minutes, Olivia Holmes walked in wearing a face mask. She was looking for ''The Redeemed,'' by Tim Pears, the final part of a trilogy set during World War 1. Then another customer arrived, and a fourth loitered in at the door: A sign in the window said, ''Maximum of three people in the shop.''

The atmosphere was vibrant, if a little constrained. And it was a vibe that echoed at five other booksellers in the capital.

The same morning, Patrick Kelly, the owner of the used-book store Bookmongers of Brixton, sat behind a see-through plastic screen, looking at his bookstore's heaving shelves.

He was worried about the future, he said, because the neighborhood around the store had gentrified so much over the past decade and he'd become reliant on ''tourists and day trippers'' to get by.

''We can reopen today, but when we see a tourist again is anybody's guess,'' he said.

But soon a trickle of customers started buying. Paulo Sousa, 40, bought a medical notebook, though he said he didn't actually want to read it. instead, he said, he was going to cut a shape in its pages and hide a present for his brother inside.

At the back of the store, Mathew Nsubuga, 28, was staring intently at a shelf of science fiction books called S.F. Masterworks, with vivid yellow spines. ''I've been waiting for the shop to reopen today, as I knew they had a lot,'' he said.

Nsubuga said that he'd been reading science fiction during the lockdown - including ''Dune'' by Frank Herbert - and that book had ''helped me survive.''

''Reading had kept my mind off all of the other issues in the world,'' he added. He left the store with six books costing 27 pounds, about $24 in total.

The World Students Society thanks author, Alex Marshall.


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