Opening a bookshop during a pandemic: Fox Books

Fox Books (exterior) on St. Martin’s Square, Leicester. Photo © Laura Coleman, 2021

Fox Books is the new kid on the block – that is, on St. Martin’s Square, a vibrant and evolving area of independent bars, restaurants and retailers tucked away in Leicester’s city centre.

Launching a new commercial operation during a pandemic is no mean feat, but Fox Books is fast becoming a popular spot for shoppers – not to mention a convenient way to request titles online.

The store’s owner and manager, Ieuan Cox, spoke to Leicester Writers’ Club member Laura Coleman about the importance of offering a personal service, developing stock with the input of customers, and the range of events and collaborations on the horizon.

You opened very recently – how have the first few months gone?

We started with a bang! Our first official trading day was just after the easing of Covid restrictions on 17th May and people were keen to get out and about again and support their new independent bookshop. Things have settled down since May but are still going well: we’ve already got a handful of regulars, and still have plenty of people visiting us for the first time.

Why should we buy from independent booksellers, both during the pandemic and at any time?

The great thing about independents is the personal service we offer. We can adapt to customers’ tastes and interests – for example, when Fox Books opened we didn’t stock any poetry, but after a few people showed an interest we started developing a poetry section.

A significant part of our sales comes from customers requesting titles that we don’t stock. This is a service people really appreciate, whether it’s mainstream titles that we can order in for the next day, or more obscure books that we have to hunt around online for (which is actually much more fun).

We’re also very keen to promote local authors with a dedicated section that already includes fiction, non-fiction, poetry, graphic novels and children’s books, and we’re hoping to grow it further.

How did you arrive at the genres and sections that you stock?

For a small shop like ours, choosing what to stock is the hardest part. We try to fit in as wide a range as possible, alongside the popular titles and authors that people might expect to find in any good bookshop.

Most of our stock is new fiction, but this covers many genres. At the moment, alongside the usual crime, thriller and romance titles, we’re stocking quite a bit of mythical fiction (Ariadne, The Song of Achilles) and lots of fiction that explores race, gender and class (Assembly, Detransition, Baby). And of course, we always welcome suggestions from our customers.

How have you had to adapt to the changes and uncertainties of 2021, and which of these adaptations do you think are here to stay?

In some ways, opening during the pandemic has been a good thing. We’ve never known it any other way, so hopefully when all of this is over, running a bookshop will be a breeze! We’re sticking with reasonable precautions for the time being: masks, sanitiser, limited numbers in the shop.

The only major impact the pandemic has had on us is that we haven’t been able to put on events. Now things are opening up again we’re hoping to start hosting readings, signings, book groups and more.

What do you hope the future holds, for your bookshop and for independent booksellers and presses in the UK more widely?

In the medium term our aim is to keep growing steadily and become a fixture in Leicester’s shopping and literary scenes. We’re looking forward to hosting events and working with more local authors, but our focus is the day-to-day job of finding great books for our customers.

Longer term, we’re hoping to turn our stockroom into more sales space so we can increase our range of titles even further.

Any special promotions or forthcoming events?

Keep an eye on our website and social media (@foxbooksltd) for news of our events. We’re also partnering with Tim Grayson, Poet in Residence at Belvoir Castle, to publish the Leicester Literary Review 2022 – submissions are now open! More information can be found on Tim’s website.

Laura Coleman, August 2021