Fri | Jan 28, 2022

Bookland – labour of love keeps them going

Despite COVID-19 slowdown, New Kingston book store owners choose to keep business open

Published:Sunday | December 5, 2021 | 12:05 AMAsha Wilks - Arts and Education Writer -
Suzzanne Lee, owner of Bookland, with her husband, Andrew Lee. The couple say their business is a labour of love and have dipped into their savings to keep the store open during COVID-19.
Suzzanne Lee, owner of Bookland, with her husband, Andrew Lee. The couple say their business is a labour of love and have dipped into their savings to keep the store open during COVID-19.
Suzzanne Lee, owner of Bookland.
Suzzanne Lee, owner of Bookland.
Suzzanne Lee, owner of Bookland, stands outside her store on Knutsford Boulevard in New Kingston. The going has been tough after COVID-19 hit, but Lee and her husband have chosen to keep the store open.
Suzzanne Lee, owner of Bookland, stands outside her store on Knutsford Boulevard in New Kingston. The going has been tough after COVID-19 hit, but Lee and her husband have chosen to keep the store open.
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“This is our calling and this is what we love to do,” says Bookland co-owner, Suzzanne Lee, adding that her business has seen better days prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Since then, Lee and her husband have had to finance their 54-year-old store with their own funds, and with depleted income every month, it has been a struggle to keep the book store open than profiting from sales.

Nevertheless, they have been motivated to serve the public, still holding on to the belief that there is a niche for their book store in New Kingston.

Lee says, despite the fact that there has been a reduction in business and revenues, which has resulted in an 80 per cent dip in profits, they have significantly discounted all reading material in the store where customers can purchase books as low as $20.

This in efforts to spike the interests of both old and new customers, whose visits have dwindled over the past 20 months.

Her husband, who assists in operating the business, told The Gleaner that people do not have the same level of disposable income they once had. As such, with the financial impact on many persons’ pockets, he says this means that people will prioritise what they need versus what they want.

“So, what that means is, I want a book but I have to use it to buy a pan of bully beef,” he said.

One of the many factors which has caused a decrease in sales is the reduction of traffic from surrounding office buildings, hotels, and tourists from other Caribbean islands who would normally visit the area, securing up to three and four books at a time.

“Normally at lunchtimes, this was the place to be,” Lee said, as she told the story of two lawyers who recently visited the store and were surprised they were still open. The couple, who Lee says used the store as their meeting place during their lunch break when they were dating, bought books to support the business, and to show their gratitude to the place that helped to foster their love.

Catering to the few book enthusiasts left in the Corporate Area, Lee says she has witnessed tons of heart-warming stories since the pandemic hit the country last year March. So much so, that she ponders on the idea of writing a book filled with what she described as ‘pandemic stories’ which will undoubtedly inspire others.

One of the many touching experiences she has seen at first hand is the “beauty of our people”, she described, where a security guard and a young teacher from the Avocat Primary and Junior High School in the Silver Hill district of Portland visited the store earlier in the year.

Together with other administrative staff they have taken a lot of interest in the children who were not able to attend online classes.

By creating social-distanced classrooms, they accommodated students so that they would be able to utilise the school’s resources as they ensured that students were logged on to their respective classes.

Lee, who at that time gave away unused bookshelves, listened to the passion and the dedication of the security guard and teacher who shared their story. Despite the uncertainties of when the effects of the pandemic will ease financial difficulties of Jamaicans, Lee says she is not fazed by when or if the store will be closed any time soon.

“We don’t know how long we can do it but we do it for as long as we can ... We do it for the passion of making books available to people,” said Lee.

asha.wilks@gleanerjm.com